MAPUTO, The serious overcrowding in Mozambican prisons hinders the rehabilitation of prisoners, damages their dignity, and imposes extra costs on the State, says the

President of the Supreme Court, Adelino Muchanga.

Speaking at the ceremonial opening of the 2017 judicial year here Wednesday, Muchanga pointed out that total capacity of Mozambican jails was for 8,188 prisoners, but they are now holding more than 18,000 people, or more than twice the installed capacity.

He blamed the overcrowding on excessive use of preventive detention, the slowness in bringing prisoners to trial, and the use of imprisonment, rather than alternative forms of punishment, for petty offences.

In 2016, Muchanga said, 35 per cent of those in the country’s jails had not been tried, but were in preventive detention. Many of them had not even been charged, and of those facing charges many could be released on bail, and told to await their trials at home.

Suspects “persistently requested provisional release during the preliminary investigation of their supposed crimes, or in the subsequent phases, but there is reluctance and hesitation about setting them free, even when there is no reason to believe that they pose a flight risk, or will disturb the investigations”, he added.

This reluctance persisted, Muchanga said, even in cases where the legal time limits on preventive detention had been grossly exceeded. As a result, there has been a substantial increase in the number of habeas corpus requests reaching the Supreme Court.

“We receive 15 habeas corpus requests in 2015, and the number rose to 61 in 2016, almost all of them based on the fact that the limits on preventive detention had been exceeded”, he continued.

However, most detainees cannot afford a lawyer, and know nothing about the habeas corpus rules: if they did, the number of requests would certainly be much larger.

Attorney-General Beatriz Buchili also denounced prison conditions, noting that the number of people now incarcerated was higher than it had been for the last three years. She agreed with Justice Muchanga that the situation could be minimized by reducing the number of illegal detentions, speeding up judicial procedures, and using alternative punishments (such as community service) instead of imprisonment.