Malawi: Mission on Prisons and Conditions of Detention, 2001


Commissioner Dr Vera Mlangazuwa Chirwa, Special Rapporteur on Prisons and Conditions of Detention in Africa visited places of detention in Malawi on 17-28 June 2001. The objective of the visit was to assess and document the conditions of detention in Malawi, make immediate recommendations when necessary and initiate cooperation with the Government of Malawi towards the improvement of prison conditions in the country.

The Special Rapporteur was accompanied by Dr. Alpha Oumar Sankarela Diallo, Physician in chief, Security and Prison Services, Guineaand Audrey Pascaud, Assistant, France

General recommendations:

  1. Parliament should vote an adequate budget for Malawi prisons to ensure that conditions of detention do not amount to inhuman or degrading treatment. Where donor assistance has been offered, implementation of the workplan agreed should proceed without delay
  2. Overcrowding: A maximum occupancy level should be established for each place of detention. Suspended sentences, conditional release, parole, probation, diversion should be promoted and implemented to reduce prison population and improve the rehabilitation of offenders. The community service pilot scheme should be energised, allocated with adequate means and extended at national level. Mediation and community policing should be encouraged provided that individual rights are respected. More prisons' activity programmes (including education, sport and recreational activities) should be introduced as overcrowding is brought down. NGOs should get involved in programmes for prisoner's rehabilitation (income generating, skill learning) to prepare them for their eventual release and their being integrated into society.
  3. Overstaying on remand: Police should speed up the screening process so that those found not involved in any crime should be released from prison. This will help reduce overcrowding as well. Illegal remand detention should be reduced and remand warrants respected. More prisoners should be bailed. A better range of activities should be offered to any remand prisoner staying for a lengthy period.
  4. Premises: Prison rehabilitation should be intensified and the building of new prisons should be completed to allow for the transfer of prisoners to more human places. All efforts should be made to ensure that prisoners are detained in purpose-built premises. Zomba central prison steps are in very dangerous state and must be replaced promptly before they collapse and cause damage to life. Mzimba prison should be closed and a new one opened. Measures towards the separation of different categories of prisoners should be undertaken as overcrowding is brought down. Kitchen facilities should be put right so as to cater for a balanced and regular diet. The shower, toilets and washing facilities should be extended in proportion to the number of prisoners and existing ones restored to a good state of repair.
  5. Food: The balance, quantity and quality of food should be improved.
  6. Blankets and uniforms: All prisoners should be provided with at least two blankets and adequate clothing.
  7. Hygiene and cleanliness: The shower, toilets and washing facilities should be maintained in a hygienic condition in all places where problems were observed. NGOs should strengthen their activities in the prison by developing education programmes for prisoners including about hygiene, health, HIV/AIDS.
  8. Rules: To enforce discipline and order, rules should be explained to prisoners as well as disciplinary measures and this information be made available through posters and leaflets inside all prisons. Prisoners should be informed about their rights.
  9. Women and children: Expecting and breast-feeding mothers plus elderly women should not be sent to prison.
  10. Juveniles: Specialised units for juveniles should be developed and in the meantime strict separation between adults and young people should be maintained. Young persons in custody should be provided with a full regime of educational, recreational and other purposeful activities. Physical education should constitute a significant element of that regime. Moreover, the staff assigned to units accommodating juveniles should be carefully chosen and, more specifically, be persons capable of guiding and motivating young people. First young offenders and petty young offenders should be given a chance not to go to prison and diversion measures be implemented to allow them continue their education. Mozambique could develop exchanges with Malawi about juvenile justice. Approved schools should receive an adequate budget from the line Ministry.
  11. Foreigners: Prisoners should systematically be given the possibility of informing their nearest embassy that they are in prison. Appropriate steps should be taken to minimise the difficulties of communication between prison staff and foreign prisoners (preparation and translation into relevant foreign languages of a leaflet describing the routine and regime of the prison, the rights and responsibilities of prisoners and staff, complaints and disciplinary procedures; translation  of the most commonly used expressions between prisoners and staff). Deportation and transfer of willing prisoners should be organised more systematically. Immigration department should ensure that foreigners who have served their sentence and want to go back home are promptly repatriated. Prison services should anticipate the release of foreign prisoners and inform the immigration department well in advance.
  12. Prison Act: The Prison Act should be updated in conformity with international standards.
  13. Management: In order to improve the supply of basic necessities to prisons, the prison administration should consider to implement requests for supplies from outlying stations and fight against corrupt practices in the quarter-master's stores and staff. This would help better control expenditures and the way goods provided are utilised.
  14. Staff: A priority should be given to human rights education for officers and guards of all ranks and in-house training of prison staff and police.
  15. Ill-treatment: The Inspectorate of Police and of Prisons should investigate allegations of ill-treatment in respectively police stations and prisons. Authorities should make sure that an end is put to this type of practice and that wrongdoers are punished.

Health recommendations:

  1. Existing dispensaries should be renovated and extended and health infrastructures should be created in large prisons where they do not exist. These structures should include offices for medical staff where prisoners can openly discuss with and reveal to doctors their problems; beds for patients kept under observation; and isolation rooms for patients with contagious diseases.
  2. Qualified doctors should be recruited in full time positions for the larger prisons and existing paramedical staff should be strengthened. It is of utmost importance that Zomba central prison has a qualifieddoctor as a staff member and that the current clinical medical officer of the prison be assisted by another doctor with a good background in epidemiology and in the management of public health services. This will enable the said clinical medical officer to be up on morbidity and mortality facts in prisons and to react accordingly.
  3. The clinical medical officer will need to rethink his policy of medicines supply to prisons which should be based on prisons' identified needs. Besides, there should exist standardised Guidelines for all prison medical services to follow, regarding the management of statistics and medical records of prisoners.
  4. HIV/AIDS education programmes in prisons should be intensified. Furthermore, voluntary testing for HIV/AIDS in prisons should be encouraged and suitable structure should be put in place for the psychological and medical support of prisoners who decide to take the test, those who are HIV positive and those already suffering from AIDS. To this end, prison medical staff must, at first, be trained on AIDS prevention and in counselling.