Zimbabwe’s Justice Crisis: 1 in 4 Inmates Await Trial, Some for Over 3 Years

In-Depth Look at Zimbabwe's Overcrowded Prisons and the Long Wait for Justice

by Adenike Adeodun

A staggering revelation from the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (ZimStats) has brought to light a critical concern within the nation’s justice system. Nearly a quarter of the country’s prison population, amounting to 5,403 out of 21,619 inmates, finds themselves in a state of limbo, awaiting trial, with some detained for over three years. This situation raises serious questions about the efficacy and fairness of the judicial process.

Matiwonesa Phiri, the acting director of ZimStats, sheds light on the gender disparity in these figures. Unsolved cases involve 24.6% of male and a significant 39.2% of female prisoners. The increase in both sentenced and unsentenced prisoners during the year’s third quarter further underscores the urgency of the issue.

The NewsDay investigation uncovered troubling instances of alleged corruption within the judicial system. Reports suggest that some judicial officers have been exploiting the desperation of inmates by demanding bribes to schedule trial dates. This alarming scenario not only undermines the integrity of the justice system but also deprives individuals of their fundamental rights.

According to a report by Newsday, Chief Justice Luke Malaba, during the inauguration of the Criminal Justice System National Council, acknowledged the protracted delays in case resolutions. Such delays are at odds with the United Nations guidelines advocating against unnecessary pre-trial detentions.

Human rights lawyer Charism Zhakata highlighted the principle that pre-trial detention should only be used when there is a justified suspicion and to prevent further offences or interference with justice. Psychologist Pardon Taodzera pointed to the detrimental mental health effects of prolonged detention, which may violate the right to a prompt and fair trial.

The Zimbabwean prison system, comprising 46 facilities, has been grappling with severe overcrowding issues. According to the 2022 report by the University of London’s Institute for Crime & Justice Policy Research, Zimbabwe’s prisons rank as the 75th most overcrowded globally, with an occupancy rate of 130%.

As Zimbabwe confronts these challenges, the need for a swift and humane overhaul of the judicial system is evident. The current state of affairs calls for immediate action to protect the rights of all individuals within the justice system and to ensure fair and timely trials.

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