Judges must help to decongest prisons

15Jul 2016
The Guardian
Judges must help to decongest prisons

THE idea behind incarceration as punishment for crime was to establish the point that restricting a person's liberty was enough to compensate for the crime committed.

Thus, confining a person to one place, in which case he can neither visit relatives, have fun nor plan his daily activities, is enough to deter the person, when discharged from undertakings likely to land them in gaol.

In the Western world, the perception of prisoners changed in the 19th century, when the need was seen to reform inmates into model citizens, through the provision of education, work and counseling. Sentencing was in tandem with the severity of the crime, made flexible and also, could be completed sooner or later, depending on the individual prisoner.

The reverse appears to be the case in African countries, including Tanzania. The conditions under which prisoners live in this country leave much to be desired.

It is worrying that the situation in Western prisons before the 19th century "reformatory movement" seems far better than what pertains in ours today. It is even worse when it comes to the numerical strength of detainees packed in the congested cells.

The Ukonga and Keko prisons, for example, exceed by more than 100 per cent, the population of inmates supposed to be held there.

We are convinced the situations at the detention facilities worsen by the day, due to the imposition of sentences on the least offence committed.

It is sad to see young people suffer incarcerations up to ten years for petty crimes they engaged in, including stealing chickens, wrist watches and mobile phones.

We therefore believe that the introduction of non-custodial sentences would help reduce the population of inmates in the prisons. Minor offences could, for instance, see offenders cleaning the streets and hospitals for some time, at the neglect of paying people to keep our cities and hospitals clean.

The country should also think of introducing suspended sentences, where people could avoid spending time in jail. This should be done in relation to the offence committed, coupled with the propensity of the person involved, to fulfil certain conditions.

Dar es Salaam — Former cabinet ministers Basil Mramba and Daniel Yona have been set free, six months after they were sentenced to three years in jail for abuse of office.

We still recall this year when the Kisutu Resident Magistrate's Court in Dar es Salaam ordered the two to do community service while serving a suspended sentence for the remaining two years of their jail term .

In his ruling yesterday, Magistrate In-charge said they would now serve the remaining two years cleaning up at hospital in Dar es Salaam.

They will be doing community work from Monday to Friday, starting 10am onwards. This will be their routine until November 5, this year, when their sentence ends.

The decision to adjust the jail term from imprisonment to suspended sentence was reached by the court following an application from the Prisons Department that the duo qualified for a suspended sentence.

The application by the Prisons Department was made on December 5, 2015 under section 3 (1) of the 2002 Community Service Act.

The law provides that any person who has been convicted and jailed for less than three years or fined could be granted suspended sentence by the court.

Qualifications for a suspended sentence include old age, having a family to look after, and if the offence was committed for the first time and the convicts repented.

Another qualification is if the convicts are ready to participate in community service.
After the application was filed, the court submitted it to the Social Welfare Department to ascertain whether the duo qualified for the suspended sentence. This we think should be the only way for our judges to help to decongest prisons in the country.

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