: HARARE – The European Union has committed €500,000 (US$700 000) towards improving conditions in Zimbabwe’s prisons through a grant agreement with the Zimbabwe Association for Crime Prevention and Rehabilitation of the Offender (ZACRO).
The agreement, signed on October 8, 2010 by the Head of the European Union Delegation to Zimbabwe, Ambassador Aldo Dell’Ariccia, will improve capacity in the Zimbabwe Prison Services, including for what refers to the respect for Human Rights and the rights of prisoners, and will contribute to the professionalisation of the Service, focussing on rehabilitation and not punishment of offenders.
ZACRO is a local organization whose principal objective is to implement global reforms of the prison service so that in the long run detention centres observe satisfactory standards of decency in the care and treatment of prisoners.
“The EU is persuaded that this support will make a substantial difference to the more than13,000 prisoners in the country’s prisons,” Ambassador Dell’Ariccia said during the signing ceremony.
This agreement complements an earlier €1 000 000 (about US$1 350 000) food aid project for prisoners that the European Commission Humanitarian Aid department (ECHO) supported through the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
Zimbabwe’s prisons are over-populated, according to a recent ZACRO report that noted that the country’s 55 prisons in Zimbabwe have a holding capacity of 17 000 inmates. But in October 2008 it was estimated that more than 35 000 people were in jail.
This congestion has resulted in a rise in the number of deaths from disease in the prisons – especially after the start of the economic decline and political crisis that has gripped the country since the late 1990s.
From 1998 to 2000 the Zimbabwe Prison Service estimated that there were some 300 deaths each year because of disease, with tuberculosis the biggest killer. In May 2004 a senior prison officer reported 15 deaths a week, and a peak of 130 deaths in March of that year, in just one of the prisons in Zimbabwe’s second city, Bulawayo.
Prison populations also have high rates of HIV/Aids infection, with some reports estimating that more than half of prisoners get infected from homosexual activities while inside and from other opportunistic diseases. Anti-retrovirals are not easy to come by and the dietary requirements of treatment cannot be met in any case.
There are few drugs for the treatment of tuberculosis and other diseases, and the cramped and filthy conditions ease the transmission of infection.