Tendai Rupapa and Andrew Muvishi

THE Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services (ZPCS) will soon have an open prison for women in Marondera, thanks to the intervention and support of First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa.

Open prison systems are used for inmates serving short sentences for non-violent crimes and are particularly important for mothers.

The concept was refined at Connemara, a men’s open prison, but no such facility was available for women.

Amai Mnangagwa was appointed patron of the Female Open Prison Foundation in recognition of her mission to uplift and empower the country’s womenfolk.

Following the ground-breaking ceremony early this year, the construction of the open prison is now at an advanced stage with most of the buildings now at roof level.

A borehole, which is supplying water to the prison was sunk courtesy of the First Lady’s Angel of Hope Foundation.

The facility is expected to cater for 20 inmates.

Deputy Officer Commanding Mashonaland East province, Assistant Commissioner Doreen Shoko, said the open prison concept bodes well for inmates serving short sentences for specific crimes identified as less harmful to society.

“As Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services we are delighted and appreciate the First Lady’s intervention because it has lightened the burden. Some of the inmates are pregnant while others are accompanied by their children. In our female prisons, curfew begins at 3pm so the innocent infants who need to be outdoors are stuck in an environment that is not conducive for their upbringing,” she said.

An open prison, Asst Comm Shoko said, ensures that children grow in a place in which they can navigate freely while female inmates can regain the community’s trust when they go home.

“In an open prison system, inmates serving short sentences for specific crimes identified as less harmful to society and those committed to this system have access to their families with some even being allowed to go home and visit until they complete their sentence making it easy for them to be integrated back into society.

“Yes, they committed crimes, but they are still people and should be treated as human beings. They still have rights and are still our mothers.”

Asst Comm Shoko said an open prison promotes and sustains the female offenders’ rehabilitation and reintegration focusing on rehabilitating, empowering and improving the moral character of women by extending opportunities that increase their self-esteem so that they develop positive life during and after serving their time in prison.

“It ensures that the female inmates remain in touch with their children and families as often as possible. There are also facilities that are user friendly for different persons; as well as hostels for breast feeding mothers.

“Open prisons have appropriate facilities that cater for the female inmates’ healthcare, family contact, childcare, counselling, work, education and training needs that generally promote their well-being as well as a crèche or Early Childhood Development Centre with some recreational facilities to cater for the female inmates’ accompanied by children.

“There are also project areas where the female inmates can do various income generating projects and retain some of the profits for their own upkeep and travel expenses to and from their homes during their home leave visits.”

All these dovetail with Amai Mnangagwa’s efforts to improve the welfare of womenfolk countrywide and ensure their full participation in the development of the country’s economy.

During the groundbreaking ceremony in January, the First Lady said based on the success stories experienced at Connemara, near Gweru, towards offender rehabilitation and reintegration, the ZPCS saw it necessary to establish a similar facility for female inmates.

Through her Angel of Hope Foundation, she vowed to continue working closely with the female inmates and initiating income-generating projects for them.

Zimbabwe Female Open Prison Foundation Trust board chairperson Mrs Roselyn Charehwa was full of praises for the First Lady for her contribution towards the construction of the open prison.

“We want to thank our First Lady, who has a great vision for our country. It was easy with the aid of our mother Amai Mnangagwa and her intervention made our work much easier,” she said.

“We are very happy with the progress that has been made in terms of building the structures that are now at advanced stage, we are now waiting for roofing.”

She further expressed gratitude towards the First Lady for her instrumental role in the establishment of the Open prison for female offender and implored other stakeholders to complement current efforts to see the whole project reach fruition.

She said the First Lady’s involvement would go a long way in ensuring the rehabilitation of the offenders.

The open prison, Mrs Charehwa said, would result in female inmates enjoying similar benefits as their male counterparts at Connemara.

“We are grateful that the construction of Open female prison has begun and we are appealing to well-wishers to come and partner us,” she said.

One of the female inmates Ms Patience Sithole said construction of the open female prison will give them a new lease of life.

“As a woman I appreciate and welcome the development. I wish to thank our mother Amai Mnangagwa for the initiative,” she said.