Prison conditions remained harsh and potentially life threatening.
Physical Conditions: The prison system’s 30 facilities, built to accommodate approximately 5,500 inmates, routinely held at least double that number. According to the Prison Service, there were 12, 236 inmates in the prison at year’s end.
Police also held detainees, many for longer than the legal limit of 48 hours, in police stations not designed to accommodate long-term detentions humanely. For example, a 2011 report on pretrial detention by Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) indicated that Lilongwe Police Station had 87 detainees, including four women and seven children. One of the detainees in Lilongwe had been held for seven months.
The country’s 102 female prisoners were segregated within 16 prison compounds located in 30 facilities and monitored and controlled by female guards and a female officer-in-charge. Pretrial detainees often were not held separately from convicted prisoners. The 2011 OSISA report found that supervision of female detainees varied in police detention. In Lilongwe and Mzimba, both male and female officers supervised female detainees, while in Blantyre, Thyolo, and Zomba, only female guards monitored female prisoners.
According to the Prison Service, at year’s end there were 833 young offenders (between the ages of 18 and 21) in prison, including 778 serving sentences and 55 awaiting trial. There were 17 children (under age 18) in prison living with mothers who were serving sentences. Children can be detained in juvenile detention centers (reformatory centers) for a maximum of six months, but only as a last resort or if the child is likely to be a repeat offender. There were two juvenile detention centers. The Mpemba Reformatory Centre, which held both boys and girls, can accommodate 370 children, and Chilwa, which held boys only, can accommodate 120 children; both facilities were underutilized. Children were not always held separately, at least in police detention.
Overcrowding, inadequate nutrition, substandard sanitation, poor health facilities, and inadequate infrastructure remained serious problems. Prisons and detention centers, while generally well ventilated, had no provisions for temperature control other than wood fires. Basic emergency medical care generally was available in the daytime, but unavailable after regular working hours. For more serious cases of illness and injury, referrals were made to district medical clinics. Potable water was available.
Daily prison rations were meager. Family members were allowed to bring food items and inmates were encouraged to grow vegetables and raise livestock; however, malnutrition in the prison population remained a problem.
Given the lower numbers of female prisoners, prison conditions were slightly better for women in terms of space and access to prison amenities.
Between January and September, 78 inmates died in prison, 33 due to tuberculosis, 13 due to pneumonia, and the rest from HIV/AIDS, diarrhea, and inadequate diet.
The government remained noncompliant with the High Court’s 2009 requirement to improve prison conditions. For example, on March 19, MHRC Commissioner Veronica Sembereka reported Blantyre’s Chichiri Prison cells, meant for 80 inmates, held 193 inmates.
Administration: Prison recordkeeping was considered generally reliable.
While victim support units in Lilongwe and Zomba attended to the needs of vulnerable detainees, such as women and children, other locations, such as Mzimba, had no protective measures in place due to a lack of facilities.
Prison staffing remained inadequate despite efforts to recruit more staff.
Prisoners could have visitors, observe their religious practices, and submit complaints to prison authorities. The law establishes the Inspectorate of Prisons, which is charged with “monitoring of conditions, administration, and general functioning in penal institutions taking due account of applicable international standards.” The inspectorate consists of a justice of appeal or a judge, the chief commissioner of prisons, a member of the Prison Service Commission, a magistrate, and the ombudsman. The inspectorate did not visit any of the prisons during the year.
Community service programs were available as alternatives to prison terms for first-time offenders with permanent addresses who were convicted of less serious crimes. The government also worked with UNICEF and NGOs to implement diversion programs for juveniles and nonviolent offenders, as an alternative to custody sentences.
The government decreased the budget allocation for the Prison Service from the previous year’s 2.4 billion Malawian kwacha (MWK) to 1.1 billion MWK ($7.6 million to $3.5 million).
Monitoring: During the year the government permitted domestic and international NGOs, such as Amnesty International, and the media to visit and monitor prison conditions and to donate basic supplies. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) did not seek permission to visit any prisons during the year. However, the NGO Irish Rule of Law International, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and foreign diplomats visited prisons during the year.