ON the follow up to the recent President John Pombe Joseph Magufuli’s historic visit to Butimba Central Prison.
I have to thank my esteemed readers most of whom were part of the criminal justice system in the past and others are still there, for their positive feedbacks but unfortunately were not in the position of changing that scenario on overcrowding of our prisons.
Thanks to the intervention and efforts of President Magufuli; I am convinced as of now, the problem of overcrowding and managing of recidivism in our country would be dealt effectively. The problem of overcrowding in this country was detected as early as 1980 when the average population of inmates was 36,233 against 19,432 as authorized accommodation while the country’s population was growing up from 10, 567,000 in 1961 to over 25,000,000 by the eighties.
This situation of overcrowding of prisons was brought to the fore after several studies were carried by different groups; one of which was known as the Executive Committee created by the government that worked as Task Force to examine the problem of prisons congestions. This Executive Committee was later strengthened by the creation of a Commission in 1986 inconformity with Sect 9(1) of the Law Reform Commission Act 1980.
The Commission was chaired by Justice Ernest Mwipopo and accomplished its work in November 1991.
This Commission had their first meeting on 5th May 1987 and took six years to complete their mission and had justify the delay by uttering the following, “The long time lapse has enabled our Working Group to prove conclusively that temporarily the lasting solution lies in accepting the grave reality of the situation and permanency of the problem, changing completely the policy and strategies identified” Regretfully not much has been implemented from the Commission’s recommendations and that is why we are now locked in this imbroglio.
The Commission had a wide range of recommendations that would have helped our Criminal Justice System to work on an orderly way in dispensation of justice in this country.
On the Bail Principle the Commission argued that the bail is the right not a privilege of the accused and therefore an accused should not be denied bail as a way of punishing him/her. The Commission recommended that the Criminal Procedure Act of 1985 should be reviewed. On Prisons, the Commission recommended that new modern prisons in new administrative areas be constructed and priority should be given to those areas with high crime rates.
We have seen the creation of new regions and districts without corresponding prison structures in those new regions. We still remember the death of the crammed remand prisoners at the Ilemela local court in Mwanza in 1967 and the recent years at Mbarali in Mbeya. Even those new built prisons seem to lack the necessary modern features compatible to the new philosophy of rehabilitation and social reintegration. They are new prisons but with old traditional outlook reminiscent to the retributive nature.
The Commission recommended the establishment of Research Unit in the Ministry of Home Affairs to study the trend of criminality in the country and advise the government. Also they proposed the establishment of the monthly and annual reports on criminal delay reports to be submitted to the relevant courts and registrars.
Prisons Service has been operating through various relevant laws without an implicit policy but with only political directives. Urgently the new Correctional Policy is required that would focus on addressing the inherent technical challenges through empirical researches based on data driven policies. It is a fact that neither political rhetoric nor the traditional archaic prison routines would end up overcrowding of prisons; there is need for the Prison Authority to be exposed to researches undertaken on “what works in prisons.”
On the delay in hearing cases, in its endeavor to solve the chronic problem of delays in the hearing of cases, the Commission commended the action by Judiciary in establishing Case Flow Management Committees and two shifts system of hearing cases in District and Resident Magistrate Courts.
The Commission recommended these committees should be strengthened legislatively. Furthermore shouldn’t we start considering the time served in remands is inclusive in the sentenced period as other countries are doing? The Commission further recommended the creation of the Parole System and the Resettlement ing the safest possible transition of offender from prison institutions to community through graduated controlled release via the half-way houses.
In between that time and now there have been some global reforms in Prisons to scientifically manage the overcrowding of Prisons though Risk Management theories that promote effective regimes capable of handling overcrowding. Conventional ways of addressing overcrowding is the application of conditional releases that include presidential amnesties, community service orders, parole system and decriminalization of some of the offenses.
But these are not working effectively as some of the judicial officials are reluctant to use them so as the relevant Boards are not imaginative and conversant on what they are supposed to do.
The only researched workable procedure in Prisons that may produce tangible results in the treatment of prisoners is through the new Correctional philosophy known as Offender Risk Management Correctional Strategy.
It is yet to be applied in Tanzania and has the ability of managing big numbers of prisoners through proper classification of prisoners in terms of level of security placement of offenders and that of the risk posed by offenders. That should be the paradigm shift to modernity of our Prisons Service as it will be possible technically to identify the suitability of useful labour-force for productive work in prisons as well as managing the influx of prohibited articles through Unit Management System; above all meeting the Prison’s core function of rehabilitation and social reintegration of offenders.