THE Human Rights Watch report on prison health conditions in Zambia has revealed that overcrowding is so severe that inmates cannot sleep while lying down at night.
The report which was conducted between September 2009 and February 2010 by the Prisons Care and Counselling Association (PRISCCA), the AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA) and the Human Rights Watch interviewed 246 prisoners, eight former prisoners, 30 prison officers and conducted facility tours at six prisons throughout the central corridor of Zambia.
The report stated that Zambian prisons were among the most overcrowded prisons in the world, and were at over 275 per cent of capacity in October 2009.
PRISCCA, ARASA, and Human Rights Watch documented serious overcrowding that violated these basic standards, and exacerbated existing human rights violations.
At the time of their visits, Mukobeko Maximum Security Prison, a facility built in 1950 for a capacity of 400 housed 1,731 inmates, 433 per cent of its capacity. Lusaka Central Prison, a facility built in 1923 with a capacity of 200 housed 1,145 which is 573 per cent of its capacity.
The findings revealed that Mwembeshi, a farm prison opened with a capacity of 55 inmates, housed 345, which is 622 per cent of its capacity.
At Mukobeko, 140-150 inmates sleep in cells measuring eight meters by four metres, which inmates reported were designed for 40.
At Choma, 76-78 inmates sleep in each eight metre by four metre cell.
International standards require that prisoners be provided with a separate bed, and separate, sufficient, and clean bedding.
They stated that these requirements were not met in any of the facilities visited by PRISCCA, ARASA, and Human Rights Watch.
Officer-in-charge at Lusaka central confirmed that at that facility: "they sleep in shifts. Because of the congestion, not all can sleep at once. Some sleep, some sit. They take turns to make sure that others get a chance. They are not sleeping, they are just squatting. Instead of resting in the night, they come out tired."
Felix, 43, an HIV-positive remandee at Mukobeko, reported that "we have no space. There is not even enough space to lie down. We must sit, packed in like bags."
The report stated that detainees at Mukobeko, Mumbwa, and Mwembeshi reported that they sleep on their sides, up to five on a mattress, unable to turn over.
It stated that officers recognised the pain experienced by inmates held in such overcrowded conditions.
The social welfare worker at Lusaka Central Prison noted: "There is terrible suffering when you see them at night. I am not happy to keep people in these inhumane facilities."
According to the report, over and over again, inmates reported the horrific overcrowding they face every night in their cells, describing the bodies of inmates in the cell as "squeezed like logs in a pile."
"We are not able to lie down. We have to spend the entire night sitting up.
We sit back against the wall with others in front of us. Some manage to sleep, but the arrangement is very difficult. We are arranged like firewood," said one of the inmates.
Such overcrowding leads to terrible, repeated suffering, night after night.
As Rodgers, age 42, a remandee at Lusaka central said, "we are being tormented physically. The way we sleep; If you put more pigs in a room for a night than can fit, in the morning you would find all the pigs are dead. These are the conditions we are in."
The report stated that packed together in their cells from four p.m. to six a.m. nightly, illness spreads rapidly among inmates.
The medical officer at Choma reported that the most common health problems were respiratory infections, diarrhoea, and skin conditions and rashes.
It stated that prisoners across facilities reported frequent rashes as a result of close bodily contact.
It stated that the risk of tuberculosis transmission was high.
The report further stated that the sick and healthy were routinely mixed together, and multiple inmates reported frequent coughing.
International standards demand proper ventilation to meet the requirements of health and windows to be large enough to allow the entrance of fresh air.
However according to the report, ventilation requirements were not met at Zambian prisons as several of the prisons visited lacked adequate ventilation and had only air vents.
"We are all breathing the same confined air, contributing to all airborne diseases," Hastings, 32, told the researchers.
Esther, 47, confirmed: "Ventilation is very poor. I have very small window and cell captains block windows with their shoes. and in this season it is so bad, some people faint in the night.
In the last month, five times. When we are full, which is at least once a month, we have to sleep sitting up."
According to the report, international law requires that accused persons and prisoners held on non-criminal charges be kept separate from the convicted and treated separately.
It stated that Zambian law on the books was in line with most of these standards.
"However, in practice, detention practices can be different.
Men and women were separated at all of the facilities PRISCCA, ARASA, and Human Rights Watch visited, and women guarded only by female officers. However, our research found that, apart from separation of male and female detainees, all categories of prisoners were packed together, in violation of international standards.
Convicted, unconvicted, and immigration detainees were held together at all facilities, including non-criminal immigration detainees (among them asylum seekers) held solely on administrative rather than penal grounds, pending their deportation," it stated.
The report stated that children were not separated from the adult population at the facilities visited that included child inmates.
Patrick Chilambe, the officer-in-charge at Choma, confirmed that all prison populations, except for males and females, were routinely mixed.
"As a father it pains me that children do not have their own facilities. We need to build a separate area for juvenile offenders," urged Chilambe.
Peter, a teenager, reported being threatened by other inmates if he revealed the combined sleeping arrangements.
"We sleep with the adults, but they told us to say we sleep in a juvenile cell. If we don't say we sleep in a separate cell, they will beat us. We are given punishment when we start talking. But we are scared we might die here," said Peter.
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