Zambian Prisons

Facts about Zambian correctional facilities


Imprisonment is difficult to endure all over the world, but in resource poor countries, the conditions of imprisonment can be desperate. The African prisons generally suffer from very poor and dilapitated constructions. Overcrowding is at very high levels, many of the buildings stemming back from colonial times, where the number of inmates was much lower. Imprisonment is difficult to endure all over the world, but in resource poor countries, the conditions of imprisonment are cause of significant concern. Other reasons for overcrowding is the large proportion of remand prisoners - prisoners who are awaiting trial. About 30% of the inmate population in Zambia are remandees.


Zambian prisons are no worse than the average Sub Saharan African prison. In fact in some ways better, levels of torture being quite low. The current command of Zambia Correctional Service is known to be modern and supportive of outside help. However, inhumane treatment due to the poor conditions of imprisonment is a concern. At the moment the Zambian Correctional Service holds more than 22,000 inmates (2018), and they try their best to do what they can within their limited means. Currently, ZCS have 3050 staff members, 25 health facilities in the more than 80 institutions around the country, meaning that many prisons have no health facilities at all.


Zambian prisons hold the dubious record of the most overcrowded prisons in Africa. In some facilities it is up to 600% of capacity, causing not only stress but physical ailments such as scabies, tuberculosis and other infectious diseases are spread at alarming rate. HIV/AIDS rates are high, though the current prevalence is uncertain, but the last national survey showed a 27% prevalence rate. Water supply is eradicate in some prisons, and this leads to poor hygiene. Soap, detergents and disinfectants are a rare commodity. Lack of hygiene of course contributes to the health problems.


The food provided by Zambia Correctional Service is not sufficient, making food donations from relatives necessary for the individual prisoner. However, due to poverty and stigma many inmates are left to fend for themselves. Malnutrition causes amongst other diseases the condition 'swollen legs' which ultimately has a deadline outcome, if left untreated. Death can be a very real outcome of a prison sentence.

In 2017, Zambia Prisons Service changed its name to Zambia Correctional Service. This marked a political change from punishment to rehabilitation. Corrections therefore aim to work much more human rights based and with a much increased focus on health, education and reintegration.The Zambia Correctional Service does its best to alleviate the problems, yet they face significant challenges in providing for the inmate population. In the mid 2000's government implemented and 'open door policy' to open more up to the public and to get international organisations and civil society to contribute to improving the situation. In recent years we have seen an influx of new organisations working with more or less success. A challenge remains knowledge sharing, coordination and creation of synergies between organisations.


Ubumi Prisons Initiative is one of the organisations which have been allowed into prisons, and has also gained the trust of the current command to work relatively freely within the correctional facilities for the benefit of the inmates. Ubumi is very privileged in the sense that we receive all the necessary support in terms of access and permissions to do our work.

Read more about our work here

Facts about circumstantial children

Circumstantial Children is a term that describes the female prisoners' children who come with their mothers into prison. They are not in conflict with the law but their mothers' circumstances place them in prison. So to distinguish them from the children who fall in conflict with the law the term circumstantial child is used to describe this group.


A study conducted in 2010 (Simooya 2010) showed that about of the females incarcerated 6.8% were pregnant, and of these about 50% received medication to prevent HIV infection to their unborn child. 12% decide to bring their children with them in prison. Many bring their children, because they are still breastfeeding and/or because they do not have anyone in their social network to take care of them. In 2018, there was an average of 70 children in all Zambia's correctional facilities.


However, the prison regulations do not provide for the childrens' welfare but leaves them under the discretion of the Officer in Charge, who is often dependent on outside help. For instance, no extra food is provided for circumstantial children, and the children have to share their mother's food ration.


The needs of these children include basic needs such as nutrition, education, recreation and conducive accomodation as they sleep with their mothers in already congested cells or dormitories. A concerning issue is also that the growing up in prison can be damaging to a child's social development. This however does not mean that Ubumi is against children staying with their mothers, because sometimes it is the best option.


Upon leaving the prison, the children (with their mothers) get back to main stream of the society, but the children often end up going in compounds with their mothers, who in many cases are street vendors selling merchandises in the street without any adequate care to them.


Children who leave prisons by the age of 4

When children reach the age of 4 they have to leave prison, even if their mothers stay behind. This leaves some children in a very difficult situation, if there is noone to take care of them.


There are no clear guidelines reg circumstantial children leaving prisons without mothers. The prison Act has the rule that allows a child to be with their mother up to 4 years if there is no where a child can be left and above 5 years such a child shall be handed over to social welfare offices department to facilitate a child to safer institutions mainly the orphanages under foster care. However, in a country as poor as Zambia this is not without problems.

Click here to read more about our projects to learn how we help the circumstantial children.

Facts about juveniles

There are about 500 juveniles in the Zambian correctional facilities aged 12-18. The majority are placed in adult prisons, where they either await trial, serve a so-called custodial sentence (where they stay in the adult prison) or transport to juvenile centres for convicts. The vast majority of juveniles are placed in prisons. According to both international and Zambian standards juveniles are not supposed to be mixed with adults, but for the most part they are. Most facilities try to seperate them within prison walls, which is also problematic due to the extremely limited space allocated to the youngsters.

Juveniles suffer from the same issues as the adult inmates in terms of overcrowding, lack of food and proper hygiene, as well as poor access to quality health services. Adding to these serious issues, juveniles are only children and they are vulnerable. They are often targets for sexual abuse, violence and verbal harrasment. They are often treated as 'inherently bad and hopeless' by the adults surrounding them, and this has lasting impact on children. Many of them come from improverished backgrounds with few opportunities. They are in need of support in the shape of legal aid, life skills development, health services, nutritional support and education.

Click here to read more about our projects for juveniles

Facts about the seriously ill

Inmates suffer immensely due to the lack of food, basic necessities and due to health problems and overcrowding. Mukobeko Maximum Prison is one of the prisons most affected by ill-health and malnutrition. Statistics from 2010 show a general HIV prevalence rate of 27% in Zambian prisons, compared to a general population rate of about 12%. TB rates are high and malnutrition is a major problem. Inmates can not survive imprisonment in the long run based on the food Zambia Correctional Service provides. This means that inmates are depend on outside help or eachother for their survival. Many inmates share their food, but there is not enough food regardless, and inmates have to live in constant fear of death.


In the bigger prisons there are prison clinics which offers basic services, and has some medication available. There is some support for HIV/AIDS/TB patients, but drugs are at times irregularly supplied, which causes the risk of multi-resistence. Lack of nutritious food also poses a major challenge to taking the medication provided and to health in general. It is necessary to take the drugs with food, otherwise patients feel very ill, and the medication can not work efficiently.


Ubumi's work with nutrition does not discriminate. We focus on all patient groups, who need help. In general, the clinical officer or nurse in each facility aided by the inmate coordinators determine who needs to be on our programme.


Ubumi also works to prevent outbreaks of infections - including diarhoeal diseases and worms through improving hygiene. We also work to increase access to clean drinking water.

Inmates taking the lead in changing the lives of others

Inmates are not only passive recipients of outside aid. They take on reponsibility for others in many ways. There is little doubt that imprisonment is very harsh leaving many to fend for themselves. Yet, care comes in different shapes. It can be the prisoners who share their food. Prisoners who help the most vulnerable with their own small means.  But this is not the only way prisoners work actively to improve the lives of their fellow inmates. Schools are run by inmates, serving as teachers. Inmate Psycho-social Counsellors are educated to support inmates who have problems. In our project for the ill, volunteer inmates lead and support the project as coordinators and as caregivers.

Click here to read more about our projects for the seriously ill.