AmaBhungane: Hunger stalks Malawi’s prisons


    We need to change government’s mindset,”
    said Victor Mhango, of the Centre for Human Rights Education
    Advice and Assistance. “They think prisoners are not entitled
    to human rights because they committed offences, forgetting
    that we are all potential candidates.”

    Said one of the prisoners interviewed by the
    Centre for Investigative Journalism Malawi (CIJM): “The
    government takes the hunger situation as a norm, so I don’t see
    anything changing.”

    One consequence of food shortage is
    corruption. Inmates told CIJM that the cooks, who are recruited
    from among the prisoners, demand monetary or other bribes to
    provide larger portions, and that those that lack the means to
    pay suffer the worst pangs of hunger.

    The inmates also said that the
    cooks themselves and the head prisoners, known

    receive more food than other

    Research conducted by Hastings Moloko, Davis
    Ng’ong’ola, Joseph Dzanja and Thabie Chilongo, of the Lilongwe
    University of Agriculture and Natural Resources, found that 95%
    of Malawian prisoners suffer from food insecurity; 89% are
    severely food-insecure; and that only five percent are
    food-secure – but only because they receive additional food
    from home or relatives.

    A food insecurity gap index of 0.8279 in
    Malawi prisons meant that there was, on average, an almost 83%
    shortfall in food … from the (United Nations) food security
    threshold of 2 100 kilo calories per day per

    In other words, prisoners received about 17%
    (or 357 kilo calories) of the recommended daily provision,” the
    report finds.

    It adds that to make the prisons food secure,
    additional expenditure of $2.07 (1,502 Malawi kwacha) per
    prisoner per day is required.

    The experience of food insufficiency was
    assessed in interviews with prisoners using 11 different tests,
    including whether they felt anxious about food, ate unwanted
    food, went to sleep hungry, had gone a day and night without
    eating, supplemented prison food with food from outside, and
    used shameful methods to obtain food.

    A total 1,000 of the 12,598 inmates in
    Malawi’s 30 jails in 2015, as well as 30 officers in charge of
    the institutions, were interviewed

    The research revealed that 61% of those
    interviewed suffered from persistent feelings of anxiety about
    food availability.

    Up to 54% of the inmates reported eating
    unwanted food, while 76% perceived themselves as eating a
    smaller meal than they wanted, with 54% feeling this was the

    The majority, 81%,
    perceived themselves as eating a limited diet, comprising maize

    with peas and

    Twenty-two percent of the prisoners perceived
    themselves as going to sleep hungry at night. Twelve percent
    said they had gone a day and night without eating because the
    prison had no food, and 48% said they augmented their prison
    diet with food from outside.

    Some 62% of the prisoners perceived
    themselves as using shameful means of obtaining food, such as
    begging or stealing from other inmates”.

    Mhango said the report was a true reflection
    of the food crisis in Malawi’s prisons and that the Malawi
    Prison Inspectorate had made similar

    He said his organisation had campaigned for
    increased resource allocation to prisoners and greater
    awareness of their rights, and that in one particular year the
    prisons budget was increased. However, this improvement had not
    been maintained.

    He urged the government to make the prison
    service self-reliant in food production, saying the department
    could help counter broader food insecurity in

    Malawi Prison Services spokesperson Smart
    Maliro failed to answer questions about the food crisis over a
    period of three weeks.

    The department’s standard minimum rules for
    the treatment of prisoners provide that “every prisoner shall
    be provided by the administration at the usual hours with food
    of nutritional value adequate for health and strength, of
    wholesome quality and well prepared and

    In a ruling in 2007 the High Court also found
    that the “minimum standards set by the (1955) Prisons Act have
    outlived their time and ought to be amended to… to meet
    nutritional needs of the prisoners to address new health
    challenges of inmates”. The 1955 Act is still in force.

    Photo: A Malawian woman husks
    corn with a group of women in her village on the outskirts of
    Lilongwe, Malawi.
    Photo: Stephen

    This story was supported by

    Centre for Investigative Journalism
    the Integrity Platform (Malawi) and

    amaBhungane Centre for