PRISONS Care and Counseling Association (PRISCCA) executive director Godfrey Malembeka says allowing incarcerated persons to participate in elections is part of reformation and the reintegration process into society.
In an interview, Malembeka noted that Zambia, like most progressive democracies in the world, had allowed prisoners to vote as a way of enhancing the enjoyment of human rights and freedoms.
Malembeka also said politicians should avoid debates around whether or not prisoners should be allowed to vote and instead concentrate on how it could be made possible for those incarcerated to exercise their right to vote.
“This issue of allowing prisoners to vote is not a political matter and it is not a decision by ECZ, it is a Constitutional matter and a human rights issue. It was our decision even myself as an Ex prisoner, we went to petition in the Constitutional Court to put to rest the advocacy issue that started in 2011. The Zambian Constitution has never stopped prisoners from vote, but this prohibition was in the ECZ Act Section nine and 47. But the supreme law of the land is the Constitution, there is no subsidiary law that can be above the Constitution. So when the ConCourt was established, we thought we should go there to put this matter to rest and this is what just happened in 2016 when the ruling was passed in our favour. So what politicians need to do now is not to waste time talking about why prisoners should vote or that they should not vote, that is water under the bridge. The debate judgment was done and you cannot appeal because the Constitutional Court ruling was final,” Malembeka said.
“What we need to concentrate on, which is also my advice to all political parties, is to begin preparing their manifestos and messages of what they are going to tell all the incarcerated people in Zambia. They should be able to tell inmates what they will do if they win the general elections. The second question they need to pause is a question paused by Mr [Chishimba] Kambwili, the ‘how’. We need to address the how; how will this be done? How will the prisoners vote? That is what we need to do. Let us stop stigmatizing prisoners because they are also Zambians. Some of these people talking have actually done worse things than the people in prison but because of money, they don’t end up in those correctional facilities.”
He added that allowing prisoners to vote was part of the correction process and reintegration of inmates back into society.
“We are in the new era of reformation and correction. This correctional model calls for giving those people (inmates) a second chance, embracing those people and especially that we are a Christian nation. So the ‘how’ is going to be addressed by ECZ. So we must establish branches where the prisoners can be sensitized about how they shall the vote and the importance of their participation in elections. People should not reach 2021 without addressing this issue,” Malembeka said.
“In prisons, we have pastors, we have civil servants, people from the private sector, teachers, and accountants. We have civilized people in correctional facilities and today we have television sets in these facilities so people are well informed. Prisoners are not blind, they read newspapers and watch TV, so they know what is happening.”
He said inmates were an important part of the country’s governance process.
“Don’t think prisoners are useless; in fact, they may even be more informed than some of the people outside because they have more time to read and listen to news. So we ask those who are still suffering from the colonial hangover where prisoners were not respected to stop. This is not time to debate the question why prisoners should or shouldn’t vote because there is no relationship between punishment for a crime and allowing someone to choose a leader. So for us, allowing prisoners to vote is part of reformation and reintegration into society,” said Malembeka.