Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to overcrowding, frequent outbreaks of disease, food and potable water shortages, and poor sanitation and medical care.
Additionally, criminal justice system centralization, delayed Justice Sector Reform Commission results, understaffing, poor diet among inmates, outdated laws, harsh bail conditions, and court delays were identified as problems.
Physical Conditions: According to NGO Prisons Care and Counseling Association (PRISCCA), there were 90 prisons, of which 54 were traditional institutions and the remainder were open-air prison farms.
An inefficient judiciary and a failure to process detainees eligible for release on bond or bail contributed significantly to overcrowding. According to the Human Rights Commission (HRC), more than 80 percent of accused persons at the pretrial stage who were eligible for bail or bond were not processed.
According to data supplied by both PRISCCA and the commissioner general of prisons, an average of 19,000 prisoners were incarcerated in prisons designed to hold 8,150. Overcrowding was slightly reduced during the year due to increased sleeping capacity in new prisons opened in 2015. PRISCCA noted overcrowding was compounded by a slow-moving judicial system, outdated laws, and increased incarceration due to higher numbers of persons driven to crime by poverty. Other factors included limitations on judges’ power to impose noncustodial sentencing, a retributive culture of police officers, and poor bail and bonding conditions. Indigent inmates lacked access to costly bail and legal representation through the Law Association of Zambia. Other organizations such as the Legal Aid Board and the National Prosecutions Authority were also difficult for inmates to access due to a lack of representation outside Lusaka.
The Prisons Act requires separation of different categories of prisoners, but only female prisoners were held separately; juveniles were often held together with adult inmates and pretrial detainees with convicted inmates. Prisons also held an undetermined number of “circumstantial children,” who were either born in prison or living in prisons while their mothers served out sentences. According to PRISCCA, the constitution does not take into account the biological and health needs of incarcerated women or their children. Although a law on the care of circumstantial children exists, there were no prison facilities for breastfeeding or pregnant women. 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, and mothers had to share meager rations with their children in an environment lacking appropriate medical care, which often exposed children to disease.
Prisons did not adequately address the needs of persons with disabilities. Prisons generally had inadequate ventilation, temperature control, lighting, and basic and emergency medical care.
Many prisons had deficient medical facilities and meager food supplies, and a lack of potable water resulted in serious outbreaks of water- and food-borne diseases, including dysentery and cholera. Inmates received breakfast, mostly a cup of simple meal or porridge for which inmates must secure their own sugar, and lunch served in double portions. Failure to provide lunch and supper separately was attributed to a lack of electric stoves and pots.
The prison system remained understaffed with only two doctors--one of whom also performed managerial duties--to attend to 21 prison-based clinics. The Ministry of Health provided mobile hospital facilities to prisons. The supply of tuberculosis (TB) medication and other essential drugs was erratic, which NGOs attributed to inadequate funding. A failure to remove or quarantine sick inmates resulted in the spread of TB and other illnesses and the deaths of several prisoners. The HRC and PRISCCA expressed concern at the lack of isolation facilities for the sick and for persons with psychiatric problems. The incidence of TB remained very high due to congestion, lack of compulsory testing, and prisoner transfers.
Access to health care services for inmates, including HIV/AIDS and TB diagnoses, antiretroviral therapy (ART) and other treatments, improved since the establishment in 2015 of the Zambia Correctional Service (ZCS) Health Directorate. For example, 90 percent of inmates reportedly received counselling and testing for HIV. Sixty-five percent of those diagnosed with HIV had access to ART. HIV prevalence in prisons, however, was 27 percent, compared to 13 percent in the general population. The HIV rate was worsened by prisoners’ inability to maintain the strict diet needed for effective treatment, overcrowding, and a lack of adequate prevention and treatment services.
Authorities denied prisoners access to condoms because the law criminalizes sodomy and prevailing public opinion weighed against providing condoms. Prison authorities, PRISCCA, and the Medical Association of Zambia advocated for prisoners’ conjugal rights as a way to reduce prison HIV rates. Discriminatory attitudes toward the most at-risk populations (persons in prostitution and men who have sex with men) stifled the development of outreach and prevention services for these groups.
According to the 2013 National Audit of Prisons, female inmates had limited access to health services. Gynecological care, cervical cancer screening, prenatal services, and prevention of mother-to-child transmission programs were nonexistent. Female inmates relied on donations of underwear, sanitary pads, diapers for infants and toddlers, and soap. Kabwe Female Prison was the sole prison built for female occupancy; other prisons improvised to accommodate female inmates.
Administration: Recordkeeping was inadequate. PRISCCA attributed delays in appeals for convicted offenders to the judiciary’s poor recordkeeping and misplaced and lost files. Although provided for by the penal code, alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders were applied sparingly, generally to juvenile offenders. There were no ombudsmen to promote the interests of inmates. Prisoners and detainees generally could not submit complaints to judicial authorities or request investigation of credible allegations of inhuman conditions.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted prison visits by both domestic and international NGOs, including religious institutions. Local NGOs visited prisons, advocated for better prison conditions, and published critical reports. The HRC campaigned to eradicate torture within the prison system.
Improvements: In November the ZCS incorporated new skills training programs for prisoners to prepare them for reintroduction into society.