Zambia Correctional Service Act comes into effect
By Gillian N. Namungala
The Zambia Correctional Service (ZCS) has for a long time been operating under a punitive justice system also referred to as retributive justice, which means to punish inmates by incarcerating them in penal institutions. This punitive model has been practiced not only in Zambia, but also in many other countries.
However, despite being dominant, punitive justice has had wide-ranging criticisms over the decades. Research has revealed that punitive form of punishment does not reform the prisoner but instead hardens them. Wine F. H (1888) criticises it saying crime is not redressed by taking vengeance upon the criminal, neither can it be eradicated by severity. Severity, when pushed beyond its natural and lawful limits, induces a reaction and it hardens the criminal.
Similarly, criminal justice instructor Millicent Kelly notes that when the system seeks to punish rather than rehabilitate, many of those who are incarcerated are likely to repeat their actions upon release and become caught up in the cycle of incarceration when they are returned to penal institutions.
According to the South African White Paper of 1994, an estimate of 85- 90 percent of prisoners re-offended upon release from its prisons. It was with these alarming levels of recidivism that led to South Africa’s prison reformation. The white paper further explains that the department was convinced that rehabilitation and prevention of repeat offending were best achieved through correctional rehabilitation and development, as opposed to punishment and treatment.
Today, both South Africa and Namibia who have reformed their prisons from punitive justice system to correctional rehabilitation, admits that the change was based on the conviction that a human being can change and transform given the opportunity and the necessary resources.
Fortunately, this paradigm shift is world over, penal institutions are moving away from the punitive justice system to correctional rehabilitation and reformation of inmates.
It is against this background that the Zambian government changed its penal system from punitive to correctional, on January 5, 2016 following the New Legal Establishment provided for under Article 193 of the New Constitutional Amendment Act No.2 of 2016.
Today, the paradigm shift has become a reality following the publication of the commencement order of the Zambia Correctional Service Act No 37 of 2021 by Minister of Home Affairs and Internal Security Jack Mwiimbu which came into effect on January 18, 2022.
The Correctional Service Act came to be following the repeal and review of the Prisons Act Cap 97 of the Laws of Zambia under which the Service was established. The Constitution Amendment Act No.2 of 2016 necessitated the repeal and paradigm shift, resulting in the name change from Zambia Prison Service to Zambia Correctional Service.
Confirming the development in an interview, Senior Assistant Commissioner Cecilia Bwalya, who is ZCS’s head of legal explained that the repeal and review of the Prisons Act was as a result of constitution amendment Act No 2 of 2016 which provided for the establishment of what is now called Zambia Correctional Service.
Further, Ms. Bwalya clarified that because of the policy shift, there was need to review the Prisons Act to align it with international instruments such as United Nations Nelson Mandela Rules that deal with the protection of rights of incarcerated persons.
She applauded the move and said the review of the Prisons Act was a step in the right direction as it signified the paradigm shift from the punitive justice system to the correctional model of rehabilitating inmates. She cites the abolishment of corporal punishment among others.
“The Prisons Act had clause 99 which supported corporal punishment, while in the reviewed Act there is no provision for corporal punishment” she said.
Ms. Bwalya adds that the ZCS Act under clause 30(1) and (2) takes into account the welfare of circumstantial children in correctional facilities.
“In the past, children depended on rations issued to their mothers and from well-wishers but now they will be provided with clothing and necessities at public expense, except when the child is weaned and is capable of being cared for by a person other than the female inmate,” she said.
“Also now an expectant mother admitted to a prison or correctional centre may be provided with necessities and care at the public expense as prescribed.”
She further pointed out that the ZCS Act has maintained clause 84(1) which allows the President to release, on licence, an inmate serving a term of imprisonment for life, subject to be absent from correctional centre for a specified period of time for personal ,family or other reasons if circumstances so warrant.
Ms. Bwalya explains that this provision was not new as the repealed Prisons Act Cap 97 also allowed prisoners serving long sentences to seek permission to visit their families.
“This provision is still there and has been maintained in the new Correctional Service Act” she said
“This clause will give an opportunity to those serving long sentences with no hope of being discharged from prison, so they can visit their beloved one’s home bearing in mind that interaction is very important for reformation.” She said.
She was however quick to say that it has never been invoked by anyone. However, Ms. Bwalya notes that ZCS has a big task of sensitizing members of the public on the new correction model. She notes that it is difficult for an ordinary person to appreciate some measures that are being implemented to rehabilitate inmates.
“To an ordinary citizen, an inmate is looked at to be a very bad person with no second chance to be better, but to a correctional officer, inmates are individuals with potential of becoming better citizens,” she said. Hence officers put in the best to reform inmates so that they are re-integrated back into society.”
To actualize the paradigm shift from retributive justice to corrective justice, ZCS has since renamed all its facilities as correctional centers. Previously, correctional facilities were known as prisons, a name that was synonymous with punitive justice.
Ms. Bwalya said further to the correctional reforms, ZCS wants to see court cases being expedited and to this end, the organization has been incorporated into an advisory committee which is working in collaboration with National Legal Aid Board, National Prosecution Authority and the Zambia Police Services.
The ZCS has also been joined to the Cause Listing Committee, which scrutinizes court cases in terms of availability of inmates and the progress made by judges in the hearing of cases.
Ms. Bwalya also cites the presence of qualified legal officers who have been trained as Correctional Officers in all central correctional centres as a plus that would quicken the disposal of court cases and enhance the scrutiny of inmates eligible for amnesty, parole and prerogative of mercy.
These measures have been introduced to ensure that ZCS abides by the required minimum standards for the treatment of offenders. However, achieving total change would not be over night but gradual.
The author is Chief Reporter-Zambia Correctional Service, Public Relations Unit