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Are our prisons really sex dens?

According to the Committee’s Deputy Chairperson Honourable Rosweeter Kasuikila, they were shocked to discover that a room designed to accommodated 40 inmates was overcrowded with 183 prisoners, over and above its capacity. Another serious revelation was of remand prisoners who have stayed for too long without contact with their wives.

The team confirmed that due to their lust for sex, the inmates are forced to engage in same sex amongst themselves. Following this kind of practice in the prison, the ultimate result is the escalating of HIV/AIDS pandemic.

As a person who has worked with the prisons for over 45 years, I have the courage of saying this is not true. Perhaps prisoners used the occasion of saying what they wanted to say, hoping this is another Parliamentary oversight committee that could results into the sacking of their usual unpopular captors. What are the facts?

Statements or evidence of prisoners should always be taken with caution because, in most cases, it has been proved to be inconsistent, unreliable and manipulative. Do you remember some few years ago, when Justice Robert Kisanga inspected all prisons in the country, and while presenting his findings, journalists expected to hear something on sodomy from his report for their headlines?

Justice Kisanga confirmed that he reported on what he saw and heard, nothing like sodomy was reported to him. There is no dispute on the massive overcrowding in our prisons, and this has been reported for the last 40 years but it has never been given the priority it deserves. This is what we are reaping now. Understanding the reasons for prisons’ overcrowding generally requires an analysis of the prison capacity, sentencing policy and practices together with other contributors.

In order to effectively address overcrowding key contributors should be identified. Our prisons’ gates are wide open for admissions but very narrow for releases. On the HIV/AIDS prevalence in prison, this is where the committee went wrong. Unfortunately, they did not do their home work properly hence they confined their findings on sodomy only. They should have read the literature on HIV/AIDS in prison settings before coming with that startling conclusion.

The high levels of HIV infection among the prison population in Africa are much higher than its infected population outside prisons. About 668,000 men and women are incarcerated in African prisons where the HIV situation has been inadequately addressed and needs urgent political and financial attention.

Prisoners, particularly convicted prisoners are exposed to several transmission risks whilst in custody; risk associated with unprotected, forced and consensual sexual practices, injecting drug use (IDU), tattooing, piercing, sharing of razors, hair clippers and unsafe medical or dental care. Sharing of injection equipment among IDU has been established; therefore raising their vulnerability to contracting HIV and Hepatitis B/C particularly remanded prisoners.

In addition to individual risk behaviours, prison structural issues such as prison overcrowding, inadequate nutritional provisions, poor hygiene conditions, inadequate health services and violence in custody, contribute to making prisons high-risk environment for the transmission of HIV, tuberculosis (TB). It is still not established whether the prisoner has been infected with HIV/AIDS in prison (or has arrived with it from outside being in incubation period particularly for remand prisoners like those of Segerea in Dar es Salaam.

Since it is not mandatory to test for HIV/AIDS on admission it has always been denied by prison officials that such prisoners may have acquired the pandemic while in prison. But what are the factors that contribute to HIV transmission among prisoners? There are various reasons.

They range from the weakness of criminal justice and judicial systems, social stigma, institutional and social neglect, lack of resources for maintenance of existing penal institutions, poor food and nutrition, lack of healthcare, overcrowding, mixing of un-sentenced and convicted persons, high-risk of sexual and other behaviour, such as injecting drug use and blood mixing and lack of conjugal visits. Occupancy rates reflect high levels of overcrowding.

In Cameroon, Kenya and Zimbabwe, occupy rates range around 300- 345 per cent above planned levels, followed by Burundi, Malawi, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Sierra Leone reporting up the rate of 200 per cent. Most countries stand at 120 to 170 per cent rates including Botswana, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Madagascar, Mauritania, Mozambique, Namibia, Senegal, and South Africa.

However, the available data suggest that high prevalence rates in African prisoners compared higher than the general adult population. The data randomly collected show HIV prevalence rates in prison ranging from 2.7 per cent in Senegal and 9 per cent in Nigeria to 27 per cent in Zambia based on voluntary testing and ELISA ratings. A study conducted in South Africa a few years ago, indicated that about 40 per cent of prisoners were HIV positive, while HIV prevalence among adults was estimated at a lower rate of 25 per cent.

For other countries, the corresponding figures show that 12 per cent prevalence among prisoners in Cameroon and
28 per cent Cote d’Ivoire double or triple the HIV prevalence among the adult population in other countries. Data on Mauritius indicated 5 per cent prevalence among prisoners, which is almost 50 times the prevalence among the general adult population.

It looks our parliamentarians relied heavily on the crude report from the prisoners rather than from the medical doctors who are there. Once again, a reminder, no research no right to speak otherwise we might be building a mountain out of a mole.


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