Minister of Home Affairs Stephen Kampyongo says government is still having challenges in empowering ex-prisoners with start-up capital to help them fully integrate back into society after incarceration.

And lawyer and civil rights activist Francis Kapijimpanga says society has no restorative mechanism to help ex-prisoners get back into being productive, relevant, effective and efficient citizens enjoying full human rights as enshrined in the Republican Constitution.

In an interview, Kampyongo explained that the Ministry, through correctional services countrywide, had made a drastic shift from punitive to correctional offender management for convicts.

He, however, noted that start-up capital was still lacking for ex-convicts to be fully re-integrated back into society.

“Some of the interventions that are put in place to enhance this programme of correctional aspect is to impart skills. You have seen sometimes our correctional service displaying furniture; most of that furniture you see is made by inmates. The only thing that has been lacking and which we [government] want to address is start-up tools in form of capital,” Kampyongo said, adding that out of societal pressure, former prisoners may lapse into re-offending.

“So, we trying to make sure it’s a complete cycle; when they [ex-prisoners] are imparted with skills, they [ex-prisoners] are also assisted with start-up tools for them to use. So, that’s what we are doing. We also have school programmes; you will be pleased to note that others are doing secondary school; others starting from basics just to help them [inmates] to be law-abiding citizens…not forgetting farming; some are taught how to be productive through farming.”

He said government was currently running a project at Mwembeshi Correctional Centre in conjunction with the Egyptian government aimed at training inmates in agriculture and various skills.

“We are engaging a number of stakeholders that have come on board to supplement the efforts of the Zambia Correctional Service; one of them is the Prisons Care and Counselling Association (PRISCA), who are doing amazing works,” he said.

Kampyongo observed that overcrowding was still a challenge in most correctional facilities across the country as most existing facilities were built before Independence, noting that accommodation for correctional service officers was sub-standard.

“We [government] have not invested in the infrastructure development in a long time. We still have the old prison facilities built before Independence, but we have started some programmes; we are putting up new facilities at Mwembeshi. We are also looking into the welfare of correctional service officers by also providing them [with] decent accommodation unlike what it used to be in the past,” Kampyongo explained.

And in a separate interview, Kapijimpanga observed that the rate of unemployment negatively affected people with a criminal record.

“Before we talk about even consideration for employment for people who come out of prison, we need to reorganize our prison system, criminal justice system, so that when a person goes into prison, they have access to materials to read, to blow their minds, to challenge their creative function because you don’t cease to be a human being when you go into prison,” Kapijimpanga said.

“What we need to do is, we say; ‘what are the best practices that we can learn from Scandinavian countries?’ ‘What are the best practices that we can learn from the Western world?’ I’m talking about those aspects that are corrective, restorative, and still confer the benefits of the human rights component to this human being [convict]. So, we need to start from there.”

He said there must be will, leadership and deliberate efforts from the political leadership to reorient society’s attitude towards ex-convicts.

“The way our prison system is set up, it’s a death sentence on you as an individual! It’s a killer of your dreams and aspirations! We need to change the whole set-up; the prison system, the judicial system and political system. If that happens, then it’s easy for us (society) to receive [those] who are out of prison and make them contribute to economic growth to our GDP (Gross Domestic Product) and can be part of the solution on how we can move this country forward,” said Kapijimpanga.