Zambian prisons 'overcrowded'
Lusaka - Prisons in Zambia are so overcrowded that inmates are sometimes forced to sleep seated or in shifts, and children behind bars are vulnerable to rape by adult prisoners, aids organisations said.
A report released by the Prisons Care and Counseling Association (PRISCCA), Aids and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA), and Human Rights Watch on Tuesday said that some prisoners are detained for years enduring such conditions before they are even brought to trial.
"Zambian prisoners are starved, packed into cells unfit for human habitation, and face beatings at the hands of certain guards or fellow inmates," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. "Children, pregnant women, pretrial detainees, and convicted criminals are condemned to brutal treatment and are at serious risk of drug-resistant TB and HIV infection."
In the 135-page report, entitled "Unjust and Unhealthy: HIV, TB, and Abuse in Zambian Prisons", the groups called on the Zambian government and its partners to make immediate improvements in prison conditions and medical care. They also argued for improvements in the criminal justice system, and for more to respect the rights of prisoners and to protect public health.
There was no immediate comment from Zambian government officials despite repeated and persistent requests to officials to give their side of the issue.
"Zambia needs to act now to improve conditions in prisons and address the health needs of prisoners," said Michaela Clayton, director of ARASA. "Addressing prisoner health is also critical for effectively addressing community health, since prisoners and staff return to towns and villages."
Sexual abuse is common
The groups said children and adults and convicted detainees all are held together in spaces so tight that at some prisons, they are forced to sleep seated or in shifts.
Medical care is almost nonexistent, according to the report. The Zambia Prisons Service employs only 14 health care workers to serve 15 300 inmates, and only 15 of the country's 86 prisons have clinics or sick bays, it said.
Physical abuse only compounds the ill health of inmates. Some prison officers routinely beat prisoners, or force them naked into small, dark cells where they are given minimal food, the groups said. Prisoners are also frequently beaten by other inmates. Sexual abuse is common, and children are particularly vulnerable to rape by adult inmates in their cells.
"People are dying," said Godfrey Malembeka, a former prisoner and prison rights activist who is executive director of PRISCCA. "Zambia has an obligation to ensure humane treatment for prisoners. Human beings cannot live the way the prisoners are living. It is intolerable."