PRESIDENT John Joseph Pombe Magufuli has recently reiterated his call that prisoners should feel the pinch of their dastardly actions by gruelling them with hard labour whilst serving their sentences in prisons. President Magufuli’s message was targeted to both suspects and convicted inmates on organised crimes not to live in prisons as if they are in holiday camps.
The message just came at a time when there are serious allegations that some of the prisoners, those drug lords are living in prison as if they are in a heavenly bliss and it is rumoured that some of them sneak to their houses for a sleep!
These are very serious allegations particularly coming from a very senior government official; I find it hard to sink into my head. For some of us who have worked in prisons for more than forty years, this has been extremely exaggerated beyond the limits! Could it be true, if the answer is yes then, that facade of fake and corrupt phenomenon must have really destroyed this nation?
Notwithstanding to those allegations my interest is on that call made by President that prisoners should be made to work particularly those serving long sentences.
It seems the government is now serious on prisons production both on agricultural and industrial activities; then if that is the case, the government should genuinely support Prisons to adapt new Prison Reforms apparently not familiar to some the decision and policy makers.
How do they allow the system to operate without a policy save for only the Prison Act of 1967? No wonder the production has drastically fallen down. This is very true; most of the Open Prison Farms which used to be food basket centres are no longer productive.
Institutions like Kingolwira Prison Farm established in the colonial times as a Dairy Farming Centre for milk production to the Dar es Salaam is in shambles. Prior to this move, Dar es Salaam used to import its milk from Nairobi. The Kingolwira Railway Station was designed to have special infrastructure to facilitate the quick ferrying of milk to Dar es Salaam.
There were grand plans of resettling white ex-prisoners along the Central railway line in Kingolwira for Dairy Farming before independence. Come independence in 1961, more Open Prison Farms were created and scattered throughout the country to the envy of Members of Parliament who struggled to have prisons in their areas as nucleus for agricultural production in their constituencies.
What has happened to prison’s production from both industrial and agricultural activities? Apart from financial resources which have been dwindling year in year out, there was yet another problem that does not need financial resources but only requires foresighted leadership.
With financial muscles it could be possible to enhance agricultural output to higher levels through mechanised farming. But with financial constraints, labour intensive could be a best alternative to production as long as there are a big number of prisoners to work!
Have we failed to use prisoner’s labour while all the years the cry has been on overcrowding of our institutions? Many things have changed but the Prison Service is still static, and Prisons operates on the old traditional ways that are incompatible with the trend of new development on the guise of maintaining security and severity of the punishment.
The sentencing policies have changed making three years imprisonment as a normal length that can attract community service award. But to Prisons this is still a long sentence that attracts high security and can hardly be allowed to work outside the prisons!
That means such kinds of prisoners are subjected to an enforced idleness in the prisons causing a kind of skewed overcrowding with that mentality of lock them up and throw the keys.
The Prisons Service should review its policy that would align with the tenets of effective rehabilitation. The concept of rehabilitation hinges on risk and need assessment and that would open up and give answers to all what appears to be insurmountable challenges to Prisons Service.
The Correctional World has so much changed that the treatment of offenders is based on the risk the offender has and not on the length of the sentence as is our case.
We are yet to change that resulting to run our Prisons in a very expensive manner both financially and security wise. With electronic risk assessment tools, this could help to change the classification of our prisoners and prisons in a very convenient way making it possible to use our human and financial resources equitably.
Based on this new researched approach, prisoners are classified as high, medium and low risk and invariably deployed in high, medium security placement; the higher the risk the intense the rehabilitation programme offered.
Such reforms would ensure our Open Prisons Farms to have a good workforce of prisoners screened of low risk offenders with long sentences. These reforms are necessary to meet the President’s call on prisoner’s labour and increased production to both industries and agriculture.
Early this year, it was reported that Prisons are in dire need of more prisoners to work in prisons farms. The Officer In charge of the Songwe Prison Farm in Mbeya asked the government to send more prisoners at this farm which has 2,700 hectares underutilized and that only 250 hectares are in use due to ‘artificial short supply of prisoners.’
Songwe Prison Farm virtually empty has the holding capacity of 229 prisoners and yet the nearby Ruanda Central Prison in Mbeya is overcrowded with over 1120 prisoners who cannot work in Open Prison Farms! In a study conducted in 2013 on the Prisons Service Management of prisons population revealed that Open Prisons Farms had under capacity of 5314 prisoners while Central Prisons were unnecessarily overcrowded by more than 60 percent.
This is a paradox on the Prison’s claim on overcrowding of prisoners! We urgently need reforms to reverse this situation.