P.H.O.E.B.E Prison Recovery College Project delivers critically needed mental health workshops for women in Zimbabwean prisons and addresses the prison conditions that are inconsistent with the domestic and international rights of prisoners.

The neglect of women in criminal justice research has been justified on the grounds that they account for only a small fraction of arrests and commit fewer crimes than males. This justification ignores the fact that, women who do enter the justice system, while fewer in number and less violent than their male counterparts, often become extensive users of the system. In focusing on the overwhelming number of males in the criminal and juvenile justice systems, programs, policies and services often fail to develop a diversity of options for dealing with the gender and culturally-specific problems of female offenders enmeshed in the system. Many criminal and juvenile justice professionals lack familiarity with criteria for female specific programs and interventions. Against this background, female prisoners are not effectively rehabilitated and develop undiagnosed mental health disorders. They stay in prison without access to mental health services and treatment. 

The conditions in female prisons are also very alarming as they are inconsistent with the international and domestic standards that are provided for in international instruments, the Constitution of Zimbabwe and the Prisons Act [Chapter 7:11]. The periods for which many prisoners have been placed in remand violate the standards set out in the Constitution and international human rights instruments. There are numerous cases where detained persons are being held for periods that are way longer than the constitutionally ordained periods of pre-trial detention with pro deo lawyers that they have lost contact with. This results in a sense of hopelessness and leads to depression and anxiety amongst female prisoners. The right to dignity is also infringed as prisons in Zimbabwe experience high levels of overcrowding and detainees have to resort to using water in buckets to flush the toilets due to erratic water supply. Women also face an additional challenge of lack of sanitary wear, where they have to rely on relatives that come to visit. It should be noted that the majority of these women do not get visitors and have to find other means during the time of their menstrual cycle. In addition there are also infringements in the right to sufficient food, the right to safe, clean and potable water, the right to health care services, and access to education, vocational training and work in the female prisons and this again has added to mental health problems amongst prisoners. There is a definite need to advocate these rights for our female prisoners and to strive for policies that protect these rights.


  • Reduce the incidence and prevalence of mental disorders in women in prisons, including those associated with inappropriate use of addictive substances; 
  • To deliver women’s self-esteem  and peer support workshops in prisons;
  • To train prison officials and prisoners to identify mental illness amongst prisoners during training workshops and exchange visits;
  • To educate prisoners on their fundamental human rights;
  • To advocate against the infringement of prisoners’ rights and for policy change where it is needed;
  • To provide prison officials human rights training to ensure that they are familiar with the rights of prisoners. This will enable the prison officials to recognise and quickly address and improve areas that need improvement;
  • To provide legal help to the female prisoners who have been stuck in remand
  • Addresses disability rights on women with mental illness in prisons and advocate for those prisoners