The Mental Health Review Tribunal Board recently held its inaugural meeting at the Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison Complex with the aim of steering the board towards decongesting Chikurubi, Mulondolozi and other correctional and rehabilitation institutions.
Ministry of Health and Child Care Deputy Director Mental Health, Dr. Patience Mavunganidze said the main aim of the Tribunal was to deal with the challenge of overcrowding currently bedevilling Chikurubi and Mulondolozi institutions.
“The scope of this Tribunal meeting is to decongest the correctional and rehabilitation institutions that are over populated,” said Dr. Mavunganidze.
She added that the Tribunal considers applications and appeals made to it by or on behalf of patients detained in special institutions and other places then directs the release of mental health patients detained.
The Mental Health Review Tribunal Chairperson, Retired Justice Maphios Cheda said during this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to practice preventive measures against the spread of viral disease in prisons by especially practicing social distancing, but overcrowding in these institutions makes it impossible so there is need to decongest the facilities.
“To the mentally challenged inmates, social distancing may be alien to them which by itself creates more risk for both the inmates and the prison staff,” said Justice (Rtd) Cheda.
He added that overcrowding in prisons overstretches resources resulting in the shortage of basic necessities for patients such as clothing, medication including anti-psychotic drugs.
Cheda further expressed that all prisoners, including those with mental disorders, have the right to be treated humanely and with respect for their inherent dignity as human beings, therefore, the Tribunal’s appointment is opportune for everyone as it will provide mentally disturbed prisoners with procedural protection within the criminal justice system equivalent to those granted to other prisoners.
The Tribunal is one such mechanism that has been created in order to offer substantive and procedural equality for the people detained who suffer from mental illness.
The previous Tribunal business ceased operating since the expiration of its term of office in 2020 and it was noted that it was not fully operational due to lack of financial and material resources, a huddle the present tribunal should address in order to fully deliver on its mandate.
The Tribunal was established in terms of Section 75 of the Mental Health Act [Chapter 15:12] which also fulfills the aspirations of the Constitution on the aspect of the right to access to the courts. Currently, Chikurubi and Mulondolozi have 529 and 320 mental patients against holding capacity of 130 and 160, respectively.