Prisons Care and Counseling Association (PRISCCA) executive director Dr Godfrey Malembeka has called on government to compliment its efforts in decongesting correctional facilities by employing more lawyers.

And Dr Malembeka has appealed to the Law Association of Zambia to encourage members to take on more pro bono cases.

In an interview, Dr Malembeka welcomed government’s intention to decongest correctional facilities by creating more bed spaces and introducing community sentences for selected offences, but said government still needed to do more to reduce the backlog of cases.

“PRISCCA participated in that policy review or should I say the newly introduced Zambia Correctional Service community sentencing guidelines which was led by the Zambia Law Development Commission. PRISCCA was invited to sit in that committee as one of the technical members. So I want to agree with the minister [of Justice] and what he’s saying is commendable. But what has happened is that from the time the President assented to the new constitution amendment Act, changing the name to Correctional Service and the model from punitive to reformational, we started reviewing not only the community sentencing but the entire Prisons Act Cap 97 has been reviewed and renamed and we have participated ourselves. One of the good things they are going to introduce is the Zambia Correctional Service community sentencing. There are people who will be recommended after serving a sentence to go and finish the remaining part of it in their community and that is what the minister was alluding to,” Dr Malembeka explained.

“So we are very happy with that ourselves, that’s why we participated because that will work very well with the non custodial options judiciary conducts because judiciary will continue giving suspended sentences, community sentences and fines. Now that is the way to go because the use of non custodial options in Zambia has been too low, very very low. So what we need is to improve to make the use of non custodial options in Zambia more effective. If you look at the larger portion of the cases that those incarcerated people are facing, they are all minor, petty offences. So such people should actually be institutionalized, meaning, let them go back in the community and then they will be supervised by officers.”

Dr Malembeka asked government to find resources and recruit more state lawyers, saying they were a lot cheaper and could be found in districts where other legal practitioners had no presence.

“On creating and introducing new space, we don’t doubt this government. They’ve already proved because they’ve finished four new correctional facilities and they have done a lot more for example in commuting the death penalty and also pardoning thousands, that we don’t doubt. So it’s a welcome move. But that weight needs complimentary effort. We need the judiciary and the Ministry of Justice to compliment also what minister (Stephen Kampyongo) was saying. What we need is not only to create space and put up all these places, the idea is good and we support that but what we want is to reduce the backlog of cases. So we want government to find resources and recruit more government lawyers because they are cheaper and they are found in districts where LAZ lawyers are not found,” said Dr Malembeka.

“The other thing we want to see is actually LAZ itself. LAZ should find mechanisms and ways of motivating its members… private law firms must make the pro bono, free legal representation effective in Zambia. Legal representation in Zambia is very expensive. If I am to give you approximate statistics, Zambia still has about 3,500 to 4,000 people awaiting trial. These are remandees, they are innocent until proven guilty. We don’t need that. We need to reduce that backlog to about 1,000. then we will be talking about decongesting. We need to keep convicts in our correctional facilities and very few remandees, like they have done in Malawi. That is what is required. If we approach this congestion issue from two perceptions, the one that the Minister spoke and the one that I am telling, reducing the backlog, then we shall be winning the wars.”