Prison and detention center conditions remained harsh and potentially life threatening.
The Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) expressed concern regarding the human rights of detained persons. In particular, the MHRC reported that prisons were heavily overcrowded, and in most cases prisoners received only one or two innutritious meals a day. The MHRC also noted poor sanitation and inadequate medical services. Through October the MHRC received 11 complaints regarding the rights of prisoners and other detainees.
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 12,505 inmates in the prisons as of September 4. The Zomba Central Prison was condemned as unfit for human habitation by the Prisons Inspectorate in 1997 but remained in use, housing 2,200 inmates as of October.
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 indicated that the Lilongwe Police Station had 87 detainees, including four women and seven children. One of the detainees in Lilongwe had been held for seven months. Authorities often did not hold pretrial detainees separately from convicted prisoners.
The country’s 107 female prisoners were housed within 16 prisons. They were segregated from male prisoners and monitored and controlled by female guards and a female officer-in-charge.
According to the Prison Service, as of September 4, there were 1,095 young offenders (between the ages of 18 and 21) in prison, including 1,016 serving sentences and 79 awaiting trial. There were 14 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. As of October 17, there were 90 children (82 boys and eight girls) in the country’s two juvenile detention centers. The capacity of the two centers combined was approximately 500. In police detention, children were not always held separately from adults.
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. Officials allowed family members to bring food and encouraged inmates to grow vegetables and raise livestock; however, malnutrition in the prison population remained a problem.
Due to 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, 38 inmates died in prison, three due to tuberculosis, seven due to pneumonia, and the rest from HIV/AIDS, diarrhea, and inadequate diet.
The government remained largely noncompliant with the High Court’s 2009 requirement to improve prison conditions, according to the Inspectorate of Prisons.
Administration: Prison recordkeeping was considered generally reliable.
Each prison has a designated welfare officer, some of whom had received specialized training, to receive prisoner complaints regarding conditions. This complaint process is mainly verbal and informal, resulting in little follow-up. Prisoners sometimes had the opportunity to make complaints to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that make records of cases for inclusion in government advocacy and reports, but this rarely resulted in follow-up on individual cases.
Prisoners could have visitors, observe their religious practices, and submit complaints to prison authorities without censorship. Prison staffing, however, remained inadequate.
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 of prisons inspected prisons in the northern region in November; their report would not become public before being provided to parliament in 2014.
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 the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and NGOs to implement diversion programs for juveniles and nonviolent offenders, as an alternative to custodial sentences.
While victim support units in Lilongwe and Zomba attended to the needs of vulnerable individuals sheltering with police, such as victims of trafficking and gender-based violence, other locations had no protective measures in place.
The government increased the annual budget allocation for the Prison Service from the previous year’s 1.1 billion Malawian kwacha (MWK) to 2.5 billion MWK ($2.7 million to $6.1 million).
Independent Monitoring: During the year the government permitted domestic and international NGOs and the media to visit and monitor prison conditions and to donate basic supplies. The Malawi Red Cross, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and foreign diplomats visited prisons during the year. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) did not seek permission to visit any prisons during the year.