I recently visited Kachere Juvenile Prison for young male offenders. Kachere is a small prison located in Lilongwe City Centre and serves the central region of Malawi. The prison was built in the 1930s. Today Kachere holds approximately 130 prisoners. The prison is incredibly small and visibly overcrowded. A recent report by the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa stated that Kachere is at 200% capacity.
Fortunately, there is a willingness to change and I met with two organisations at the prison who are working with the prison officers and government to help improve prison conditions.
· I met with a representative from Venture Trust a Scottish charity that is working in Kachere Juvenile Prison in Malawi to help young men reduce their reoffending rates, and broaden the range of education and employment opportunities available.
· I also met volunteers from Music Crossroads who were teaching prisoners to play the guitar and keyboard. Music Cross roads are an an international nongovernmental organisation (INGO) that employ local facilitators and teachers using African music, theatre and traditional dance to build young people’s self-confidence.
Earlier this year the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa conducted an audit on pre-trial detention and case flow management in Malawi. The audit identified that on average, 6,333 juvenile remandees enter Kachere prison each year.
Of the 130 juvenile prisoners at Kachere prison many are pre-trial detainees. This means that they have not yet been tried for the crime for which they have been accused. The United Nations Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty (UNJDLs) set out detailed provision for the detention of children. In addition to the general provisions, the UNJDLs state the following in respect of pre-trial detainees:
“17. Juveniles who are detained under arrest or awaiting trial (“untried”) are presumed innocent and shall be treated as such. Detention before trial shall be avoided to the extent possible and limited to exceptional circumstances. Therefore, all efforts shall be made to apply alternative measures. When preventive detention is nevertheless used, juvenile courts and investigative bodies shall give the highest priority to the most expeditious processing of such cases to ensure the shortest possible duration of detention. Untried detainees should be separated from convicted juveniles.”
The Child Care Protection and Justice Act 2010 was enacted in July 2010. However, it will not be operative until such time as the public reformatory centres referred to under section 157 of the Act have been established. In an already over stretched criminal justice system the establishment of these centres is likely to take some time. That said, the Act does indicate a willingness take a new approach to dealing with young offenders. The Fifth Schedule of the Act sets out diversion options available to magistrates whereby a young offender may be diverted away from prison. Therefore, while it may still be some time away this legislation represents a move away from a culture of imprisonment