Inmates serving life freed
PRESIDENT Mugabe has pardoned 20 inmates who were serving life imprisonment, a development that complements the Zimbabwe Prison and Correctional Services’ efforts to decongest the prisons.
The 20 were recently freed on the Presidential Amnesty and their release coincided with a landmark Constitutional Court judgment declaring it unconstitutional for convicts to be sentenced to life in the absence of the parole board that gives them hope for freedom.
The constitutional challenge was sparked by the precedence that life prisoners were not being considered for presidential pardon like any other offenders.
At the same time, the parole board that determines the suitability of offenders for early release only applied to offenders sentenced up to 20 years and left out the life inmates.
In an interview at a stakeholder’s workshop on the amendment of the Prison Act here, ZPCS Deputy Commissioner-General Huggins Machingauta, said while his organisation was still waiting for an Act enabling them to set up a parole board for life prisoners in compliance with the recent court pronouncement, some 20 prisoners had been pardoned.
He disclosed that the 20 were part of the 4 088 prisoners pardoned this year by President Mugabe.
“As ZPCS, we follow the law always. When there is no written law, we wait for its enactment. We are still using the old Prisons Act, which does not provide for parole to life inmates.
“However, we are not just watching the life prisoners. Recently we released 20 life prisoners, part of the 4 088 pardoned by President this year.
“We felt the life prisoners were being disadvantaged and we recommended their release. We proved to the nation that we care for the life inmates the same way we do to other inmates with lesser sentences,” he said.
Deputy Comm-Gen Machingauta said ZPCS recommended the release of all inmates who had served 20 years in prison.
When that criterion was used, 67 inmates remained in custody and now await the enactment of the new legislative framework that carries with it the latest court judgment on parole for life inmates. Most of the freed prisoners had been serving for murder. Presenting a paper at the workshop, law consultant and University of Zimbabwe lecturer Professor Geof Feltoe, said the expansion of the parole system to include life prisoners would go a long way in decongesting the prisons.
“There will be an expanded system of parole for various categories of offenders, including those sentenced to life imprisonment. Inmates will only be paroled after a careful risk assessment on the likelihood of released inmates re-offending.
“An expanded parole system will also help to reduce the prison population,” said Prof Feltoe.
The workshop continues today.