Prisoner rights activists bemoan delays in debating, passing Correctional Services Bill

Prisoner rights activists bemoan delays in debating, passing Correctional Services Bill
Prisoner rights activists bemoan delays in debating, passing Correctional Services Bill

Africa-Press – Malawi. Human rights activists have expressed disappointment with failure by the Parliament of Malawi to give priority to the long-awaited Correctional Services (Amendment) Bill.

The activists, who addressed journalists in Lilongwe on Wednesday, stressed that failure to discuss and pass the bill into law contradicts the promise President Dr. Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera made to Malawians in 2023.

When he opened the Budget Session last year, President Chakwera announced that his government was reviewing and that it would bring the bill forward to create a parole system that would usher in a more fair system for releasing prisoners before they complete their sentences.

The proposed law was renamed the Correctional Services Bill to align it with international human rights standards, where prisons are supposed to rehabilitate inmates, not to punish them.

The Bill proposes a number of changes, including open prisons, a parole system, half-way houses and ensuring that prisons keep the money generated by prisoners’ work for refurbishment of correctional facilities.

However, there has been no progress on it, a development that has riled activists.

Centre for Human Rights Education Advice and Assistance Executive Director, Victor Chagunyuka Mhango, said members of Parliament (MPs) need to act with speed in debating and passing the Bill into law, saying it is key in decongesting the correctional facilities.

“The proposed law will help a lot in improving the environment and promote the right to health in prisons whilst ensuring that the interests of justice are served. It’s very unfortunate that we’ve been talking about this since 2000 and took several years and then, we are saying that we are consulting. I don’t think that is true,” said Mhango.

On his part, Peter Chisi, the Director of Political and Cultural Affairs at the Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC), Peter Chisi, demanded that the Minister of Homeland Security should come “out very clear in terms of the status of this legislation”.

Chisi wondered why there shold be delays when there have been promises that the bill would be tabled during any sitting.

“So, we want to know where things are stuck. Secondary, we are aware that the law does not just come to Parliament. There are stages that have to put it has to go through. So, the minister should also be able to actually come up with a roadmap in terms of the development and presentation of the white paper to cabinet so that cabinet can actually give final approval for the law to be tabled in Parliament,” he said.

He further demanded that the ‘same roadmap should also indicate what the mechanisms are there for the ministry to get stakeholders input into the law’.

“We are saying this because a lot of this nature cannot just be drafted on the table just by the Minister on its own. It needs our stakeholders inputs, including us as human rights commission because as you wouldn’t be aware, under Section 14 of the Human Rights Commission Act, it is our responsibility to review and make recommendations on new pieces of legislation. So on this one, we wouldn’t be happy to make our inputs. But we can only do that. If we have a copy of the draft law. Here’s our request to make sure that the ministry does engage stakeholders before it finalizes this law,” narrated Chisi.

In his remarks, the Paralegal Advisory Services Institute (PASI) National Director, Clifford Msiska, said the current Prison Act was formulated by colonialists to punish natives; hence, the need to replace it with a law that is in consistent with international human rights standards.

Chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee on Social Welfare, Savel Kafwafwa, assured the activists that his committee will take the matter to his fellow MPs in the august House.

The press conference was facilitated by the Irish Rule of Law.

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