Judiciary to Encourage Non-custodial Sentences

According to Nyasa Times at a court users meeting in Ntchisi last week members of the judiciary made comments encouraging the use of non-custodial sentences. Given the overcrowded nature of Malawi’s prisons a change in attitude of this type would be greatly welcomed.

The scarcity of legal personnel coupled with infrastructural deficiencies on one hand and the increasing levels of poverty and unemployment on the other, has culminated in seriously over crowded prisons in Malawi. Maula prison alone is operating with over double the numbers of persons it should hold.

Currently many suspects of petty crimes are denied access to primary legal interventions like being taken to court and granted bail and are then handed down stiff sentences. As such many suspects end up spending unnecessarily long periods in prison and police cells, a situation, which has vast social-economic implications on both the individuals and government. This current state of affairs is detrimental to the country’s progress in a number of ways. Firstly productive citizens who should have been contributing to the country’s national development as well as providing for their families are prevented from doing so. Secondly longer periods of stay in prison culminate into the learning of bad behavior from more experienced criminals, it also makes many suspects vulnerable to communicable diseases. Thirdly this scenario creates room for corruption for remandees who desperately want to get out of prison.

The need for alternative interventions in this area is clearly highlighted by data collected for a case management report released in August 2011 by OSISA, which suggests that 8,000 people, mostly young men, are admitted to pre-trial detention, from a sample of six Malawi prisons every year.  This amounts to 1 in every 250 Malawian men, which has a significant socio-economic impact at a societal level.

IRLI believe that a focus away from custodial sentences for minor offences towards rehabilitative measures could work as a very effective an intervention strategy in the criminal justice sector in Malawi.

By Sonya Donnelly