Thursday, 30 April 2020

MORE PRISONERS TO BE FREED


The clemency order issued in March has been amended by President Mnangagwa to allow more prisoners to go home almost immediately with a broadening of the clemency provisions to cut sentences, generally for non-violent crimes, to time served.

All juveniles, all bed-ridden prisoners, all who have served at least 20 years of a life sentence, all blind prisoners and all who are so seriously disabled that they cannot be properly looked after in jail can be released immediately, with sentences cut to time served.

Those serving life sentences include those originally sentenced to death with the sentence commuted to life imprisonment, and the time spent on death row counts towards the 20 years. 

Bed-ridden, blind and seriously disabled prisoners need to be seen by a correctional medical officer or Government medical officer and be certified that they fall within the categories.

All women prisoners can now be released with sentences cut to time served unless they were convicted of specified offences, in general of committing violent crimes, and all men over 60 unless they are in jail for the same specified offences or have been sentenced to life imprisonment or death.

Finally, prisoners serving effective sentences of 36 months or less and who have completed at least a quarter of their sentence by yesterday can now be released with the rest of their term remitted, unless they are excluded by the sort of offence they committed or because they were previously released on an amnesty, were sentenced by a court martial, have a record of escaping.

Under the original amnesty order, women had to have served at least half their sentence and juveniles at least a third before being released, lifers had to have served 25 years, the old age benefit for men was set at 70, and even then they had to have served at least half their sentence, and those with shorter sentences of 36 months or less had to have served half. 

Those convicted of specified offences, unless they are juveniles, lifers, bed-ridden, blind or disabled cannot benefit from a shorter sentence and have to serve their full term. The specified offences are murder, treason, rape or any sexual offence, car-jacking, robbery, stock theft or public violence.

The broadening of the clemency action is expected to release a far larger batch of prisoners than the 1 680 of the original order, with more trickling out since as they meet the conditions of how much of their sentences they have served.

Prison authorities were hoping the original amnesty would have allowed the immediate release of 5 000 to bring the prison population down to below 17 000, the designed capacity of the system, with the health dangers of overcrowding being of special concern during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The released prisoners have not been pardoned and their criminal convictions are still on record and if they had a part of their original sentence suspended, that portion can still be added to any new sentence if they are re-convicted.

What the President has done is to use the lesser power given to him by the constitution to reduce a court sentence, while still retaining the conviction. Herald

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