Malawi: improved conditions for women in prison. Is this the beginning or the end of the ordeal of women inmates?

Malawi has over 20 prisons, which are classified into maximum security and medium security facilities. These prisons provide a range of correctional programs for the incarcerated individuals.Authorities, however, say those facilities were not built with women in mind

In 2020, as a measure to curb the spread of COVID-19 and protect both female prisoners and their infants, Malawi temporarily placed female inmates in isolated detention centers, preventing incoming prisoners from potentially transmitting the virus.

Malawi has initiated the relocation of female inmates from prisons where they were housed alongside male prisoners. Officials have stated that this transfer to exclusively female prisons aims to provide women with an environment better suited for their well-being.

Chimwemwe Shaba, a representative of the Malawi Prisons Service, highlighted that correctional programs, such as formal and informal education and vocational training, had been skewed in favor of men due to the prison infrastructure, which lacked sensitivity to gender considerations. This structural constraint made it impossible to integrate female and male prisoners, thereby preventing both groups from equally benefiting from these programs.

He said that of 412 female prisoners in Malawi, 59 have so far relocated to an all-female prison known as Kachere, formally used as a rehabilitation center for juveniles, in central Malawi.

« It means that all the school blocks will be used by female prisoners and that we have already started sending competent teachers who are officers to make sure that they provide quality education to this female prison,” the spokesperson said.

Victor Mhango, the executive director of the non-governmental organization, the Centre for Human Rights Education, Advice, and Assistance, which advocates for the well-being of prisoners, expressed his support for the relocation of female prisoners. However, he expressed concerns that this move might lead to a reduction in family visits for the incarcerated individuals.

“Many prisoners are taken to prisons close to their area, » he said. « But in this case, it will be like a prisoner from Chitipa [district] will be kept in Mzuzu [city]. It means that it will be difficult for their relations to go and see her. I think that will be a challenge, but otherwise, the idea is good.”

National prisons spokesperson said plans are under way to have as many female prisons as possible across the country, which would help reduce distances for family visits.

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