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Prison Inmates walk past a prison guard at the Chikurubi Maximum security prison in Harare, Zimbabwe on May 20, 2015 during a tour by a parliamentary committee to assess the state of the nation's prisons where inmates widely complained of food shortages, over-crowding and inadequate food rations and diet. AFP PHOTO/Jekesai Njikizana / AFP PHOTO / JEKESAI NJIKIZANA


Convicts deserve a second chance in life



BEING a lawyer with a prosecutorial background, Makaita Magarezano has always possessed a keen interest in finding new ways to stem crime.


Through her organisation Alleviate Zimbabwe based in Masvingo, Magarezano is innovating ways to help the rehabilitation of prisoners by providing education, food supplies while also helping shuttle released prisoners, most of whom would have been convicted of poverty-induced crimes.

“My motivation to assist prisoners with their reintegration process stems from my interactions with accused individuals during interviews and court trials. It became evident to me that our approach to combating crime should go beyond targeting the individuals themselves, but the root cause,” she says.

“For instance, I received a docket indicating that someone had assaulted another person over a US$1 bill or a petty matter, I recognised that the true reason for the assault was not the US$1 but rather a deeper underlying issue that required investigation and resolution.”
Poverty-induced crimes are offences committed, at least in part, due to the economic hardship and desperation caused by poverty.

“I came to the realisation that poverty crimes, often referred to as survival crimes, contribute to the increasing crime rates and overcrowding of our prisons,” Magarezano told The NewsHawks.

“Releasing individuals back into the community without addressing the circumstances that initially led them into trouble is a recipe for re-offence, particularly among those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds.”

To her, even language is crucial in the rehabilitation process.
“To humanise and empower the individuals I seek to help; I refrain from using terms like ‘convict’ or ‘ex-convict’ when interacting with them. By selecting the right vocabulary, I aim to treat them as humanely as possible, recognising their inherent worth and potential for transformation,” she says.

Praise Sigauke, a beneficiary from Masvingo, says Magarezano’s organisation has given her a second chance in life, helping her break a 15-year drug addiction cycle.

“My life has changed since I met madam Magarezano while in prison. I was an addict and was arrested and passed out of prison in May last year. I am now at Mutare Polytechnic and they are paying for everything I may need assistance in,” she says.

Other than Praise, Alleviate Zimbabwe recently helped shuttle over 120 freed men and women from Masvingo Remand Prison and Mutimurefu Farm Prison during the presidential Independence Day amnesty.

The amnesty, issued through Clemency Order No. 1 of 2024, benefits female, older and juvenile inmates, the terminally ill and some who were originally sentenced to death.

“Our assistance catered for returning citizens from Masvingo, to destinations like Tsholotsho, Gokwe, Mt Darwin, Chipinge, Beitbridge, and Inyanga,” Magarezano said.

“We provided these individuals with essential items such as second-hand clothes and blankets donated by the community, as well as groceries and bus fare to facilitate their re-entry and reunification with their families.”

“While we have encountered setbacks, such as failed business ventures for some candidates, we have adapted our approach by emphasising financial literacy and discipline through education programmes.”

While Alleviate Zimbabwe has been dishing out the ‘Freedom Pack’ containing groceries and hygiene products to released prisoners, it has been empowering individuals for long-term success through initiatives like the Second Chance Education Initiative programme.

“Financial literacy education is also key to helping them manage their income. We ensure that our support is comprehensive enough, aiming to prevent situations where individuals resort to crime due to limited opportunities, a void, or any challenges as a result of their encounter with the criminal justice system,” she says.

Magarezano says she hopes to influence change in the judicial system.

“One area of concern for me is the impact of criminal records on individuals’ lives. Often, someone with a criminal record from years ago for a relatively minor offence, like stealing $200, faces long-lasting consequences such as difficulty finding employment, severed relationships, and societal stigma,” she says.

“This leads to wasted human capital and affects families and communities. I would advocate for reform initiatives, such as those implemented in other jurisdictions like South Africa and America, where criminal records can be expunged after a certain period if the person has demonstrated a crime-free life.”

“Of course, certain offences like sexual offences would still be considered, but for less serious crimes individuals should be given a second chance.”

Crime is on the rise, with Zimbabwe recording a 45% surge in crime after 208 027 criminal cases were reported to the police in the last quarter of 2022, compared to 143 923 cases in the first quarter, according to figures by the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency released in April last year.

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