By Freeman Razemba
Thousands of prisoners serving sentences for a range of non-violent crimes will be released next month under a general reduction of jail terms granted by President Mnangagwa.
The move is aimed at de-congesting prisons and alleviating challenges faced by the Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services (ZPCS). The move was approved by Cabinet yesterday.
The country’s correctional facilities hold around 22 000 inmates against a maximum holding capacity of 17 000.
The prisoners will be released anytime this month once the President approves the proposal and exercises his constitutional powers to reduce sentences.
Addressing journalists at a post-Cabinet briefing in Harare yesterday, Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Minister Monica Mutsvangwa said the sentence reduction will be for defined categories of offences and will not include all prisoners.
“Cabinet approved the proposal to have a general amnesty for prisoners,” she said. “This report was presented by the Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi.
“Cabinet noted that the country’s prison population currently stands at 22 000 against an official holding capacity of 17 000. The general amnesty, which will be for certain specified categories of prisoners, will certainly de-congest the country’s prisons and alleviate challenges being experienced by the Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services.”
The President, under the Constitution, has powers to substitute lesser sentences than those imposed by the courts. It is this power that has been used in the past, using a formula to ensure equal treatment.
“The prisoners still have criminal records, which will count against them if they repeat the offence, and their convictions stand. So they are not pardoned, a process that nullifies the conviction, but are let out of prison early.
In an interview, Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi said the date and the categories will be announced in the Government Gazette once President Mnangagwa approves the sentence reduction in terms of the constitutional section dealing with his power of mercy.
“We have listed the categories of the prisoners and they are nine categories,” he said. “Our target is to reduce the number of prisoners so that the numbers will be within our carrying capacity. The aim is to reduce them from 22 000 to about 17 000 or 16 000, preferably.”
In 2018, President Mnangagwa cut the sentences of 3 000 prisoners across the country in a bid to de-congest prisons and improve the living conditions of those who remain.
The President, in terms of the section, then cut sentences under his mercy powers in the Constitution in several categories.
All convicted female prisoners and all juvenile prisoners under 18 had their prison terms reduced to time served and so were released immediately, regardless of their offence.
In other categories in March 2018, prisoners sentenced for 36 months or less who had served at least a quarter of their sentences had sentences cut to time served provided they were not in the “excluded category”.
But any habitual criminal serving a term of extended imprisonment; any person previously released on amnesty; any person serving a sentence imposed by a court martial; any person, who escaped from lawful custody and was still at large by the date of gazetting the order; and any person convicted of a specified offence — such as murder, treason, rape or any sexual offence, car-jacking, armed robbery among others — were excluded from the special reduction in sentence.
All terminally ill prisoners serving long terms irrespective of offences committed were released in 2018.
Prisoners aged 60 and above, who would have served one third of their sentences, were freed save for those sentenced to life imprisonment or death.
All prisoners serving a term of imprisonment at the open prison, as well as prisoners serving a sentence of imprisonment for stock theft, who would have served one third of their sentence by the gazetted date were set free.
Male prisoners sentenced to life imprisonment before February 28, 1998 and female prisoners sentenced for the same on or before December 31, 2010 were also released, while commutation of death sentence to life imprisonment was granted to all prisoners who had been on death row for 10 years and above.
Physically disabled prisoners — who relied on other persons to be moved around the prison or who made use of their hands to move around the prison — were released, while an additional one quarter remission of the remaining effective period of imprisonment had been granted to all those prisoners sentenced to imprisonment for a period of more than 36 months and had served at least one third of the effective term of imprisonment. The Herald