January 30, 2011

Bill on alternatives to prison under consideration

The Mozambican government plans to analyse in April a bill that should drastically reduce the prison population by allowing courts to impose sentences other than prison terms for minor offences. Once the full cabinet has given the bill the green light, it will be sent to the country's parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, for approval. Initially it was hoped that the bill would be passed in October 2010, and would become effective this year, but the procedures have fallen several months behind schedule. Mozambican prisons have an unenviable reputation for overcrowding, and poor standards of diet and hygiene. There are currently about 15,000 people in the country's jails - but 35 per cent of them are remand prisoners awaiting trial. Most of these could safely be allowed to wait for their trials at home.

Many others have committed minor offences for which they are sentenced to a few weeks or months in jail. The proposals for "alternatives to prison" envisage courts giving such offenders non-custodial sentences, such as forms of community service. Keeping minor offenders in jail is expensive. The National Prison Service (SNAPRI) estimates that the Mozambican state would save the equivalent of six million US dollars a year if it adopted alternatives to prison sentences. The government's Legal Reform Technical Unit (UTREL) considers that the new measures to be considered should include community work, sentences served in an open or semi-open regime, and an extension of the time that prisoners are allowed to visit their families. (AIM)

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