Thousands of ex-prisoners released yearly can’t find gainful jobs, says judge Lombe-Phiri

LUSAKA High Court judge Catherine Lombe Phiri says thousands of former inmates that are released every year cannot find gainful employment.

And Home Affairs minister Stephen Kampyongo says the government has declared war against cyber criminals and bullies.

Speaking at the ceremonial opening of the 2019 Lusaka High Court criminal session themed “Restoring dignity for the incarcerated”, judge Phiri said many were denied access to almost every entry-level profession and possess no marketable skills.

“The laws as they currently stand generally do not allow a person with a criminal record to be employed in the public service. When correctional facilities prioritise removing offenders from society but dodge the responsibility of rehabilitation, high recidivism rates should be expected. Statistics show that one third of inmates return to prison within three years of their release,” she said. “Recognising this reality, Kentucky Governor Bevin said. ‘Even when a person’s physical prison sentence ends, the stigma of incarceration generally continues in perpetuity, establishing a near irreversible cycle of crime punishment’. In order to break this cycle, it is incumbent upon stakeholders in the criminal justice system to work together to offer current and former inmates tools for pursuing a viable second chance.”

Judge Phiri said it was the hope of the judiciary that as one of the key players in the administration of criminal justice, it would contribute to the bigger picture in restoring the dignity of the incarcerated.

And judge Phiri said the judiciary must take keen interest to participate in reforms that would ensure that the dignity of the incarcerated was guaranteed.

She said downsizing prisons and jails was not enough.

“Correctional facilities must be healthy places to live and work, places that affirm fundamental human rights, and where the possibility for personal transformation is a reality,” judge Phiri said.

And speaking at the same event, Chief Justice Irene Mambilima said the judiciary in the last three years mounted an aggressive policy against backlog in both criminal and civil matters.

“This was in reaction to a public outcry for the speedy delivery of justice and the need to fulfil our constitutional mandate to ensure access to justice to all and speedy dispensation of justice. At the High Court level, we began by increasing the number of criminal sessions held each year from twelve to eighteen. At that point, the High Court was in backlog of three years. To this end, we have drastically reduced on the time an accused person spends in the criminal justice system. That is to say, the period between committal of an accused person to the High Court and the date of trial has reduced remarkably,” she said.

Chief Justice Mambilima said cause-listing of criminal cases was also now being fast-tracked as the cause lists are prepared well in advance so that accused persons and other stakeholders are given sufficient notice.

She said because of the efforts and interventions put in place and the support from the treasury by making extra funds available for extra court sessions, the High Court was now current in that it was now dealing with criminal matters filed in 2018.

Chief Justice Mambilima said at Lusaka High Court, 532 cases were filed and 294 were disposed of while 112 were pending trial or judgment.

She added that cases pending cause-listing at Lusaka as at December 31, last year were 112.

“Our mission this year is to ensure that backlog does not rear its ugly head gain at Lusaka,” Chief Justice Mambilima said.

She assured that the judiciary will continue with its efforts of ensuring that justice was administered fairly and efficiently.

And Home Affairs minister Stephen Kampyongo, who officially launched the session, said the government made enormous strides in recognising and upholding the rights of incarcerated persons.

“To that end, we have undertaken reforms aimed at moving away from the punitive prisons paradigm to a correctional system centred on the upholding the rights of incarcerated persons.

He also said the government has since 2012 increased the capacity of correctional centres from 8,250 in 2011 to 11,100 by the end of 2018.

“Furthermore, we shall by the end of 2019 add an additional 3000 bed spaces to the current 11,100 bed spaces. These improvements are coming through two ultra modern correctional facilities currently under construction at Mwembeshi in Central Province trough Private Public Partnership,” he said.

Meanwhile, Kampyongo took the opportunity to announce that the government has declared war against cyber criminals and bullies.

Speaking as acting Justice minister, Kampyongo said his ministry and the Ministry of Transport and Communications resolved to declare war against cyber criminals.

“These criminals who have not even spared this very important arm of the government, the judiciary, they have even gone for the President’s office. These criminal have got the potential to harm the State and we thought we can’t sit back and allow this tread to take root. So this year 2019 is a year we have declared to fight all forms of cyber crimes but we can’t succeed on our mission if you don’t come on board. So therefore, my appeal is we brainstorm and see how we can deal with this emerging threat,” said Kampyongo.

And Lusaka High Court judge Gertrude Chawatama presented medals to seven advocates, mostly from the National Prosecutions Authority for their outstanding performance.

The judge named the award recipients as Marriam Bah Matandala, Dalitso Kabuka, Nchimunya Munkombwe, Angelica Mwanza, Sandra Lukwesa, Kelvin Muzenga and Legal Aid Board lawyer Humphrey Mweemba.

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