Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to outbreaks of disease, food and potable water shortages, gross overcrowding, and poor sanitation and medical care. Delays in court proceedings caused by an inefficient judiciary contributed to the holding of large numbers of pretrial detainees for extended periods.
Physical Conditions: Prisons were congested. According to the Prisons Care and Counseling Association (PRISCCA), the country’s prisons, which were built to hold 6,700 inmates, held approximately 17,000, of whom an estimated 6,000 were pretrial detainees. Approximately 3 percent of detainees were women, and 3 percent were juveniles, a significant decrease from 2012, when 18 percent were women and 10 percent juveniles. The decline in the number of female and juvenile detainees was attributed to pretrial nongovernmental organization (NGO) mediation, alternative sentencing, and presidential pardons.
On January 12, prisoners in the “condemned” section at Mukobeko Maximum Security Prison protested being kept in congested cells. Demanding to be executed if the situation could not be improved, the prisoners complained that seven or eight inmates were kept in rooms designed to hold two. On March 7, Lusaka Central Prison officer-in-charge Oliver Liseba revealed that the prison held 1,143 prisoners, although it was designed to accommodate 250. Juveniles often were held with adults and were victims of sexual abuse. Pretrial detainees were held with convicted prisoners. Women and men generally were held separately in the same prison.
By law police may detain suspects up to 48 hours in holding cells. The Zambia Prison Service operated 89 incarceration facilities nationwide, of which 54 were standard prisons, 33 were open-air prisons, and two were juvenile reformatories.
Overcrowding, poor sanitation, dilapidated infrastructure, inadequate and deficient medical facilities, meager food supplies, and lack of potable water resulted in serious outbreaks of water-borne and food-borne diseases, including dysentery and cholera. HIV and tuberculosis remained rampant, with HIV prevalence rates in prison estimated at 27.4 percent, compared with 14.3 percent in the general population. On September 22, female prisoners at Lusaka Central Prison complained to the Committee on African Parliamentarians about prison authorities who used the same pair of gloves to examine numerous prisoners’ private parts during body cavity searches. Also on September 22, Chiefs and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkandu Luo, who led a delegation from the Committee on African Parliamentarians against HIV/AIDS, stated that the conditions at the Lusaka Central Prison were unhealthy and not conducive for human habitation.
Prisons generally had inadequate ventilation, temperature control, lighting, and basic and emergency medical care. Many prisoners were malnourished because they received only one serving of cornmeal and beans per day, called a combined meal because it represented breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Prison officers-in-charge often arbitrarily prohibited family from providing additional food to prisoners. Psychiatric isolation facilities did not exist within prison facilities, according to PRISCCA. Prison deaths occurred as a result of these conditions.
According to an HRC report, on February 13, prison authorities at Mukobeko Maximum Security Prison shot teargas at prisoners in locked prison cells and then beat them. Although the Ministry of Home Affairs initially denied any beatings and deaths at the prison, private broadcaster Muvi Television submitted public evidence showing that eight prisoners died from beatings and suffocation.
Prison rules require prisoners receiving medical attention to be escorted by a prison officer. During the year the prison service recruited 623 prison officers, increasing the workforce from 1,800 to 2,423. Despite the increase in the number of prison officers, there remained insufficient numbers of prison officers to perform escort duty, so prisoners were routinely denied access to medical care.
The prison system employed two medical doctors; however, only one doctor provided services to all of the country’s prison facilities during the year. The supply of tuberculosis drugs was erratic. Failure to remove or quarantine sick inmates resulted in the spread of tuberculosis and other airborne illnesses, leading to infection and death in prison populations.
Antiretroviral treatment was available to prisoners infected with HIV/AIDS, but poor nutrition often rendered the treatment ineffective. On June 21, Zambia Prison Service Commissioner Percy Chato acknowledged that the service was concerned about the increasing cases of same-sex sexual activity in prison. Because the law criminalizes sodomy, authorities denied prisoners access to condoms. Discriminatory attitudes towards the most at-risk populations (sex workers and men who have sex with men) continued to stifle the development of outreach and prevention services for these groups.
There were no prison facilities for breastfeeding and expectant mothers. Incarcerated women who had no alternative for childcare could choose to have their infants and children under the age of four with them in prison. Prisons provided no food or medical services to children, however, and mothers had to share their meager rations with their children in an environment lacking appropriate medical care, which often exposed children to disease. Women’s organizations commended the president for prioritizing female inmates with infants when granting amnesty.
Administration: Recordkeeping was inadequate. The penal code provides for noncustodial sentencing, but only at judges’ discretion. Judges handed down non-custodial sentences mostly to juvenile offenders. For example, on March 11, in place of detention, the Magistrate’s Court in Mbala ordered six juveniles facing defilement charges to do community service for one month at the school where the offense was committed. There were no ombudsmen to promote the interests of inmates. Prisoners and detainees had regular access to visitors and were permitted religious observance. Although the government investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions, it did not act significantly to improve detention center conditions. Prisoners and detainees generally could not submit complaints to judicial authorities or request investigation of credible allegations of inhumane conditions.
Monitoring: During the year the government permitted prison visits by both domestic and international NGOs, including by religious institutions.
Improvements: There were improvements in the handling of prisoners’ affairs. The government marginally improved its prison capacity, opening one new prison facility, Mwembeshi B Maximum Security Prison, and splitting Kamfinsa Prison into male and female subunits. Overall, national prison capacity increased from 5,700 in 2012 to 6,700 during the year, according to PRISCCA. Specialized judicial research assistants were attached to every judge to expedite the dispensation of justice and the capacity of the prisons service was boosted with the recruitment of 623 new prison officers. NGOs took action to make typically paper-based court proceedings electronic to limit the chance that files would be lost. Judges also increasingly applied community service, fines, and other sentencing alternatives for minor offenses, especially for female and juvenile detainees. Pretrial detention of juveniles was reduced by expedited reformatory placement.