Daniel Nemukuyu, Investigations and Special Reports Editor
Only 1 680 prisoners qualify for release under the presidential amnesty out of the targeted 5 000 because the majority were convicted of serious offences and have not yet served at least half their sentences, the criteria for benefiting.
Only 53 women will benefit from the amnesty after it turned out that women ruled the roost in the commission of specified offences like murder, robbery, carjacking, sexual offences and public violence.
The Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services (ZPCS) had initially recommended the release of 5 000 prisoners in a bid to decongest the country’s prisons to 16 838, but most of the inmates failed the test.
The first group of pardoned inmates is expected to be released today.
President Mnangagwa recently issued a clemency order for non-violent offenders.
Those eligible for immediate release, so long as they were not found guilty of the specified offences that generally cover crimes of violence, are: women prisoners who have served at least half their effective sentence; juvenile prisoners who have served a third; those sentenced to 36 months or less who have served half; and those over 70 who have served half.
Offenders excluded from the amnesty include those convicted of murder, treason, rape or any sexual offence, carjacking, robbery, stocktheft and public violence, plus any conspiracy, incitement or attempt to commit these crimes or being an accessory after the fact to these crimes.
Those who have not served at least half their sentences, according to the latest clemency order, should be excluded.
Also excluded are prisoners who benefited from a previous amnesty who were convicted again and jailed, those jailed by a court martial, which would apply to certain offences by members of the defence forces, and prisoners who have a record for escaping from lawful custody.
Secretary for Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Mrs Virginia Mabiza yesterday said most prisoners targeted by the clemency order failed to meet the minimum standards for release on amnesty.
“We had targeted the release of 5 000 prisoners, but most of the inmates failed to meet the standards, resulting in a few qualifying,” she said.
“In the past, we used to release those who had served at least a third of their sentences, but this time we tried to balance the interests and raised the bar to half sentences.”
Mrs Mabiza said only 53 out of 456 female prisoners qualified for release because most of them were serving jail time for specified offences.
“Many women are now participating in robberies, murder, public violence and other serious offences, which disqualifies them from this year’s amnesty,” she said. “We cannot just release all women when they are committing serious offences.”
Prisoners who have spent at least 10 years on death row will have their sentences commuted to life imprisonment.
President Mnangagwa used his constitutional powers of mercy to effect the amnesty, desired to reduce the prison population to levels that can be accommodated safely.
All the released prisoners and those with shorter effective sentences still have criminal records and, if a portion of their original sentence was suspended, those suspended sentences can be brought into effect should they re-offend since the amnesty order only looks at remission of effective sentences.