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Zimbabwe prisons brace for killer virus

by Staff reporter
26 Apr 2020 at 12:04hrs | Views
INMATES at correctional facilities around the country fear contracting Covid-19 due to overcrowding, but Government has assured them measures have been put in place to protect them.

Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison, which has a holding capacity of 1 360, presently has 1 275 more prisoners at 2 635.

Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi said inmates safety remained Government's  priority.

Treasury recently released $15 million to assist prisons in their fight against Covid-19.

"We have restricted visits, set up screening tents at all prisons so that the incarceration places remain safe and free from Covid-19. We will continue to secure funds to ensure we at least provide all prisons with the basics," he said.

"There is also need to continuously inspect our facilities so that we make sure they are safe. Plans are also afoot to construct new facilities so as to decongest existing ones."

Meanwhile, ZPCS has taken pre-emptive steps to ensure that the disease does not spread into prisons.

Visitors have been banned for the duration of the lockdown.

There is also a new system through which relatives can transfer money to supplied merchant codes, following which inmates can collect groceries of their choice at tuckshops within the precincts of the holding facilities.

Hand sanitisers have been introduced.

Likewise, it is now compulsory for prison officers to be screened before they start their duties.

This measure is, however, not fool-proof as the World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that it may take up to 14 days or more before one starts to show signs of infection.

Platinum miner Mimosa has donated sanitisers, soap, petroleum jelly, foodstuffs and Bibles.

There were fears that the disproportionately high prison population would make it increasingly difficult to contain the virus in the case of an outbreak.

"We are overpopulated by 93,4 percent, which is mostly D-class inmates and a few C-class. Since the lockdown started, we are not taking new admissions but the numbers remain high, translating to a strain on resources," said Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services (ZPCS) Superintendent Alfred Machingauta.

The recent Presidential amnesty only managed to shed 1 680 of the targeted 5 000 prisoners.

Correctional centres intended to cut the overall prison population to 16 838, but most inmates failed to meet the stipulated  criteria.

"A lot of inmates failed to qualify for amnesty. The place would have been decongested if more of us had been released.

"We are overcrowded and if the virus finds its way here, it will be a disaster. We cannot observe social distancing and we are very much prone to any airborne disease," said Lameck Benhura, a 31-year-old inmate who has served 10 of his 14 years for rape.

His colleague, Petros Sigauke (27), adds: "This has been an ongoing crisis but I guess with this Covid-19 pandemic, something needs to be done not just for our sake, but the officers as well."

The global coronavirus death toll was creeping towards 200 000 by the end of last week. Four people have succumbed to the virus in Zimbabwe.

Apart from congestion, inmates also bemoaned a shortage of resources like protective clothing, soap, gloves, masks, sanitisers, among other things that help slow the spread of the disease.

Water supply also remained critical.

Said Supt Machingauta:  "Chikurubi last received Harare City Council water supply years ago. We are in a tough situation. To avert outbreaks, hygiene is key, inmates need to frequently wash their hands and clean their courtyards.

"The provincial office is making efforts to set up an isolation centre for us but it is still work in progress."

Source - sundaymail