Prisoners’ children get more time
THE Prisons and Correctional Services Bill has widened the rights of women as well as infants living with them, with the time a child can spend with a parent in jail being raised to five years.
Previously women were allowed to stay with their babies for only two years, but that has been extended to four years and 11 months.
The Bill also says that authorities are compelled to make arrangements to ensure that children of inmates are born in a hospital outside the prison.
If a child is born in prison, the birth certificate must not give that as the place of birth to avoid stigmatising the child.
However, the Bill is silent on what must be stated as the place of birth in place of the correctional facility.
The proposed legislation says a pregnant inmate shall be admitted into a female prison or a section of a prison set apart for female inmates only. It also says Treasury must provide funding for inmates’ children as the law in operation now makes provisions for inmates only.
“In a female prison or correctional facility or in a section of a prison or correctional facility set apart for female inmates, there shall, as far as is practicable, be special accommodation for all necessary pre-natal and post–natal care and treatment,” reads part of the Bill.
It also says an infant admitted into prison shall be supplied with food, clothing and other necessities by the State until he or she reaches 59 months.
After attaining that age, an infant can be handed over to a relative or friend who is willing to offer support on the recommendation of a medical officer or the officer in charge of a prison after considering the best interests of that child.
If there is no relative or friend willing to look after the infant, it is proposed that the child would be taken to a children’s home or handed over to the department of social welfare as approved by the Commissioner General of Prisons.
Prisons legal services director Senior Assistant Commissioner Spetosomusa Chinobva said the Bill seeks to promote both women’s and children’s rights.
“We looked at the principle that says we have to look at the child’s best interests. For a child aged five and below, their interest is to keep as close to their mother as possible,” said Snr Asst Comm Chinobva.
She said currently children are not catered for in the budget for prisons and they rely on donations from wellwishers.
“I know some people might want to argue that you want to keep children in jail but we are actually addressing the situation that is currently prevailing in prisons. We are saying if you got to prison today you will find children aged four and five but they are not catered for in the budget,” Snr Asst Comm Chinobva said.