This analysis of the criminal justice system and conditions of pre-trial detention in Zimbabwe was conducted to better understand the variance between the policy and legislative frameworks that govern pre-trial detention and the conditions in detention facilities in Zimbabwe, and to provide concrete recommendations to improve the situation. It was undertaken in the context of a country emerging from over a decade of socio-economic collapse, aspects of which had negatively affected the justice delivery system.
Researched and produced by the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and the Law Society of Zimbabwe, the study found that the number of pre-trial detainees was found to be high – approximately 30 percent of the total prison population – due to inefficiencies in the country’s justice delivery system.
Direct and indirect political control of the criminal justice system has also meant that the independence and neutrality of key institutions – such as the police, Attorney-General’s office and the judiciary – has often been hindered. Severe underfunding, capacity constraints and poor conditions of service among institutions within the justice delivery system have also contributed to increasing inefficiency in caseflow management, which has resulted in unnecessarily prolonged stays for many PTDs. This excessive detention undoubtedly violates inmates’ rights to freedom, dignity and a fair and speedy trial as enshrined in the constitution as well as in other national, regional and international statutes. The situation of human rights defenders and detainees held for political reasons was found to be worse, with political vendettas seemingly taking pre-eminence over the execution of justice.
The conditions in pre-trial detention were found to be despicable and inhumane, and amounted to violations of the detainees’ rights. The report also highlights the plight of female inmates, children incarcerated alongside their mothers and juvenile offenders, as well as other concerns, such as overcrowding in prisons, run-down infrastructure and the shortage of basic services, nutritious food and adequate clothing.
The study concludes that, while the country has an apparently adequate legislative framework to enable the realisation of the rights of pre-trial detainees, the implementation of these legislative provisions remains the major obstacle – due primarily to funding shortages, institutional capacity constraints, and the slow recovery in the country’s socio-political and economic fortunes.
The report concludes with a number of key recommendations, including the establishment of an integrated caseflow management system to enable more rapid processing of cases; more effective implementation of the parole system; an increase in government funding to upgrade the infrastructure at detention facilities, and provide adequate nutrition and clothing; and an improvement in social amenities so as to meet humane standards of treatment for detainees.
The report also argues that improved conditions of service for employees within various institutions in the criminal justice system – such as the police, prison services, Attorney-General’s office and judiciary – would complement efforts to improve professionalism and efficiency in the country’s justice delivery system. However, there is also an overarching need for socio-economic and political stability in Zimbabwe to pave the way for the creation of an environment that allows for the optimal functioning of the criminal justice system.
Conclusions and Recommendations
The study found that despite a strong legislative framework – ranging from the constitution to various acts of parliament and also regional and international statues mandating rights for pre- and post-trial detainees – there were a number of challenges at the implementation level. Among the key challenges was the poor administration of criminal procedure by law enforcement institutions and agents and the judiciary, which in many cases resulted in prejudice against pre-trial detainees and the violation of their rights.
Many pre-trial detainees had faced prolonged pre-trial incarceration due to the failure by the police to fully investigate their cases, so that their cases were tossed back and forth between the police and the Attorney General’s Office, and they were tossed back and forth between the courts and remand prison. Meanwhile, the lack of adequate resources within the judiciary and prison services resulted in inefficiency in dealing with trials and ensuring the pre-trial detainees spent the least amount of time possible awaiting trial.
There are also serious concerns about the condition of detention centres, including overcrowding, dilapidated infrastructure, and inadequate food and clothing for inmates. Unfortunately, owing to many years of neglect and underfunding, there seemed to no sustainable solutions to these problems, despite the fact that non-state actors, such as NGOs, were working hard to try and improve conditions.
Rights of pre-trial detainees
To better safeguard the rights of pre-trial detainees, there is a need for:
- Increased awareness and implementation of the Constitutional provisions guaranteeing pre-trial detainees their rights while they are incarcerated by all key state institutions;
- Increased use of non-custodial measures such as diversion, particularly for young offenders;
- Increased cooperation between criminal justice institutions to ensure the efficient flow of cases from the moment of arrest until finalisation of a trial; and
- Firm judicial control over every stage of criminal proceedings.
Improving conditions of service for government employees
- The government must improve conditions of services for all state institutions in the justice delivery system, which would help to minimise institutional lethargy, motivate employees, promote greater effectiveness and efficiency, and reduce corruption.
Improving coordination between ‘sentencing’ and ‘custodian’ authorities
- A liaison committee should be established to improve coordination between the ZPS and the judiciary to help alleviate overcrowding in prisons since there is reportedly no consultation or coordination at all between the ‘sentencing authority’ and the ‘custodian authority’, which cannot refuse to accept new inmates.
Strengthening caseflow management
- The government and its partners should develop and implement an integrated caseflow management system, enabled by effective ICT, which will result in an automated and quicker flow of cases using an electronic filing system.
- A Caseflow Management Committee should also be established to ensure that cases in the Magistrates, High and Supreme Courts are dealt with expeditiously and that in future no-one spends months or years in remand prison.
- The operation of the parole system, which allows prisoners serving long sentences to be eligible for release with specific conditions before the expiry of their sentences, needs to be enhanced.
- Judges and magistrates should consider travelling to prisons to hold court hearings since this would reduce congestion in the courts and consequentially the number of remand prisoners.
Improving prisoners’ welfare
- The government should immediately fund the repair of prison infrastructure across the country, and should engage other partners, such as donor organisations and the private sector, to assist.
- The involvement of volunteers, community groups and NGOs should be increased to provide meaningful programmes for prisoners since these improve morale and reduce inmate idleness.
- The government – through the Department of Social welfare and with support from non-state partners – should boost funding of the Zimbabwe Prison Services so that it can adequately care for pregnant women as well as infants and children who are incarcerated with their mothers and who need play areas, bedding, clothing and food for their growth, health and developmental needs.
- Prison officers need to be trained to assist pregnant prisoners by learning how to assess risk and about their extra requirements in terms of diet, nutrition, and general prenatal care.
- The rehabilitation aspect within the country’s prisons – particularly the thrust towards providing inmates with sustainable social, technical and economic skills so that they can reintegrate more effectively into communities upon release – needs to be strengthened. The government should also enhance collaboration with NGOs to promote better community reintegration of offenders.
- Inmates should be trained on preventative health care, including basic sanitation, food preparation and personal hygiene.
- Prison officers should be trained to communicate with prisoners with hearing and speech impairments.