OVERCROWDING and shortage of prison guards are compromising security at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison,the Financial Gazette has revealed.
Chikurubi, the largest correctional facility in Zimbabwe, has a holding capacity of 1 360 inmates.
Presently, there are about 2 290 prisoners at the facility who outnumber prison wardens by a ratio of six prisoners to one guard.
In March, prisoners held at Chikurubi ran riot over poor food and living conditions.
To quell the riots, the Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services (ZPCS) had to call for reinforcements from the army after they failed to contain the prisoners due to inadequate human resources.
ZPCS deputy commissioner general (audit and inspectorate), Agrey Machingauta, recently called upon Treasury to expedite provision of funding for closed circuit television and metal detectors in order to eliminate the risk of jailbreaks.
He told Parliament that the security wall at Chikurubi was almost collapsing.
“The problem with the security wall is that it was constructed during the Rhodesian era and it is now collapsing. We need to move with technology such as the type of fencing which is used in South Africa which can be repaired,” said Machingauta.
During the March riots, prisoners were said to have torn through the roof at Chikurubi using improvised tools because the prison has very poor architecture.
Machingauta also bemoaned the lack of adequate human resource personnel at Chikurubi.
He said officers who had been trained to form part of the quick reaction unit have been redeployed due to old age and the new ones needed to undergo serious training.
Already struggling to pay civil servants, the cash strapped government is in a catch 22 situation.
ZPCS spokesperson, Elizabeth Karinda-Banda, said the recruitment of more prison wardens had been suspended two months ago because of budgetary constraints.
They had intended to recruit 12 671 prison wardens for the country’s 46 prisons.
“There is no recruitment this year. We have not received any budget allocations for the recruitment and all that we are getting from Treasury is for the basic needs to run prisons and nothing else,” she said, adding that the staff to inmate ratio at Chikurubi was pathetic.
“If you look at more than 2 000 inmates at the Chikurubi Maximum Prison who are being kept under guard by at least 400 prison officers, you would see that the staff to inmate ratio is not safe,” she said.
Due to poor salaries, some of the available prison officers are being accused of working hand in glove with prisoners to necessitate their escape.
For instance, in December 2013 prison guards from Chikurubi were accused of accepting bribes to aid inmates to escape.
Last year, a female officer at the maximum prison complex was hauled before the courts for allegedly assisting an inmate to escape from jail after getting US$12 from the prisoner’s niece.
Besides security issues, the prisons in the country symbolise hell holes.
The ZPCS, apart from budgetary constraints, is also grappling with overcrowding in its prisons where inmates have shot past the 17 000 holding capacity to house more than 20 000 prisoners.
Overcrowding exposes them to health hazards, a situation which is being compounded by ZPCS’ inability to acquire adequate drugs.
The director of the Zimbabwe Association for Crime Prevention and Rehabilitation, Edson Chihota, believes that the situation in prisons “is an issue which is not particular to the prisons only but a Zimbabwean scenario where the economy has melted down and cannot make them perform some of their duties”.-Fingaz