IT has come to light that the government is looking into the possibility of building new prisons in 52 districts in the country. The upshot, the government says, is to decongest some of the most populated penitentiaries.
Indeed, life in Tanzanian prisons is not a bed of roses. A survey carried out a few years ago showed that some prisons housed too many convicts. For instance, the Dodoma Central Prison at Isanga, whose official capacity is 784 inmates had 1,338.
Maweni Prison in Tanga had 1,028 instead of 920. Segerea Prison in Dar es Salaam had 1,878 while its capacity stands at 920. Keko Prison had 1,140 prisoners while the official capacity is 420.
It was also determined that prisoners are, quite often, tortured through hard labour, insulted, hit and fed on badly cooked food. They sleep on hard cold floors. Incidents of sodomy are rampant among men.
Now, this anomaly is disgraceful, to say the least. It is imperative to point out that the Judicial System needs to respect the National Prosecutions Service Act, 2007, fully and see to it that arbitrary arrests, unlawful detentions, illegal prosecutions and unjustified imprisonments do not occur.
The state has already called on prisons officers to treat prisoners humanely despite the stark reality that they live in incarceration because they offended the nation generally. But they are still human beings who have a right to decent living.
So, prisoners are entitled to a number of human rights that they should be allowed to enjoy even though they are in jail. In fact, for most prisoners, what is actually taken away from them is freedom of movement in the free world.
Even prisoners who are in maximum security penitentiaries for life and those who have been condemned to hang for committing heinous felonies which include murders, have human rights that must be respected, despite their limited societal integrity.
Nevertheless, immoral conduct among prisoners in jails prevails because some, if not all, are normally frightening criminals who have caused mayhem in the free world and are “at home in prison.”
Some are not repentant and have no qualms at all about their crimes. This is, indeed, a savage situation. However, prisoners are in penitentiaries so they reform and become law abiding citizens.
But some are in jail serving life-long sentences. Others have a date with the hangman. And have no remorse. These need our prayers. Some continue committing felonies even behind prison walls.
They attack prison warders or fellow prisoners sometimes for no apparent reason. This misconduct, psychiatrists believe, is likely to stem from the hardships they go through. These need respite.