Female Inmates Bar Murderers Freed in Zimbabwe to Cut Costs

  • Males under 18 pardoned regardless of crimes committed
  • Males over 60 who served two-thirds of sentence to be released

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe granted amnesty to all female prisoners barring those on death row and serving life sentences as his government struggles to meet the costs of running a country where the economy has halved in size since 2000.

Government salaries consume 83 percent of revenue, according to Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa, while both the government and the private sector battle to meet monthly wage bills. Exports have collapsed because of a failed land-reform program, leading to widespread shortages of cash in a nation that abandoned its own currency in favor of the U.S. dollar and other international currencies in 2009.

Male prisoners under the age of 18 were pardoned regardless of the crimes committed, while those over 60 who have served two-thirds of their terms will be released, he said in a government statement on Thursday. Adult males convicted of rape, armed robbery or murder will not be released, according to the proclamation, while terminally ill patients unlikely to survive prison life will be freed, he said.

Release 2,000

“We haven’t calculated the total number yet, but we expect the verification process will see about 2,000 prisoners released,” Priscilla Mthembo, Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services spokeswoman, said.

Zimbabwe, which doesn’t have mandatory sentencing for murder, will also release women convicted of killing but sentenced to relatively short sentences due to mitigating factors. The country has 95 people on “death row”, according to Amnesty International, though no executions have taken place since 2005. Courts can’t impose capital punishment on people aged over 70 or under 21 and the 2013 constitution limits death sentences to cases of murder “committed in aggravating circumstances.”

The southern African nation’s prison population is 19,900 against a holding capacity of 17,000 and the country has an estimated 2,000 female inmates.

Prison activists said the amnesty was welcome, though disorganized.

“We were never informed, the relatives were never informed and reintegration isn’t an easy process,” Peter Mandiyanike, executive director of Prison Fellowship, an organization that advocates for prisoners’ rights, said.

“The amnesty is welcome and we’re grateful, but we should have been consulted because some of them don’t have clothes, they don’t have money for bus fare home,” he said. “Some have been in prison so long they’ve grown old and are afraid to go home.”

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