Prison riots: a compelling case for reform

THE unprecedented and sad occurrence that swallowed-up Chikurubi Maximum prison on Friday the 13th, cries for policy attention.

The prison authorities should take a thorough post-mortem and go the whole hog to address the cause of that incident.

Beneath the riots that claimed the lives of three inmates and resulted in the injury of many of their colleagues and prison officers, are some root causes that have been incubating for a long time. What played out on Friday are just symptoms, which we must not expend time and energy on.

According to media reports, the prison inmates had complained about the poor diet for some weeks. Promises to improve the diet were never fulfilled until the inmates decided to protest riotously. Criminals as they are, the prison officials should have realised that they have the propensity to commit a crime at any slightest opportunity.

A hungry man is an angry man. It is unfortunate that the prison authorities ignored this basic principle. According to impeccable sources, the violent protest followed several other peaceful protests over the poor food.

The Chikurubi riot took place just after I had returned from South Africa where l had visited a cousin who is locked up in one of that country’s jails. The two countries’ correctional facilities are two worlds apart.

When l enquired about their diet, my cousin told me that they have the right to protest and boycott meals if they are not served with meat. He went on to brag that they even have hot water for bathing and they sleep on beds. Such is a prisoner’s life across the Limpopo.

So many sad stories have been told and written about our prisons. Some of these stories, to be blunt, put a dent on the image of the country.

One hopes that it is not true that inmates sometimes eat sadza with Royco usavi mix soup or six beans each on a lucky day. Apart from food shortages, there are reports that inmates have no access to adequate medical attention.

The anti-Zimbabwe elements have been feasting on the pathetic situation in our correctional facilities. They liken our jails to deaths camps. To them any jail sentence becomes a death sentence in our prisons, especially Chikurubi. In light of this, our prisons must not continue to be in the limelight for the wrong reasons that can be rooted out.