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TANZANIA: Kikwete pledges to improve prison conditionsDAR ES SALAAM, 5 May 2006 (IRIN) - Following visits to three maximum prisons, the first in Tanzania by a head of state, President Jakaya Kikwete has pledged to ensure that prison conditions improve and prisoners are treated humanely.
"The aim of my visit was to learn about what is going on and I promise that the government can look for solutions, particularly on the issue of overcrowding in prison," Kikwete said on Thursday after he visited Keko, Segerea and Ukonga prisons, all in the country's commercial capital, Dar es Salaam.
For years, human rights activists have complained against appalling conditions in Tanzanian prisons.
"The situation is terrible," Kikwete said. "And there is a lot to be done to see to it that inmates are treated like human beings."
Home Affairs Minister John Chiligati as well as senior police and prison officials accompanied Kikwete during his visits to the prisons, all of which hold double their capacity of inmates.
Chiligati said the country needed 156 prisons against the present 122, a deficit of 34 facilities. In total, he said, the prisons are meant to hold only 22,699 prisoners but their current population is 45,000 "making them scramble for even sleeping space".
The minister also said many inmates had cases pending in court, a factor which human rights activists attribute to delays in disposing of cases.
"A trial, especially in murder cases, can take up to ten years," Hellen Bisimba, an official of the Legal and Human Rights Centre, said.
Chiligati said the government spent, on average, 2,500 Tanzania shillings (about US $2) to feed one inmate daily. He said there was need to resolve the congestion problem immediately because it was too costly for the government to maintain all the inmates. He added that police and law courts should help reduce congestion in prisons by relaxing bail requirements for minor offences.
Moreover, Chiligati suggested that courts should reserve custodial sentences for those who commit serious crimes and hand down suspended sentences or community work to small offenders.