The number of incarcerated persons in the country stands at 53,841 with the prison density standing at 202%. The number of prisons and remand facilities in the country stood at 105 in 2018. If the math is done correctly, then it will come out crystal clear that the prisons and remand facilities are overcrowded. With the COVID-19 pandemic, all these persons are at risk of contracting the virus. This is mostly fuelled by the fact that the environment does not allow for social distancing or any other guideline that. Are there any measures put in place to protect the prisoners and wardens, if not whats the plan. Have the prisoners been thought of? With the number of COVID-19 confirmed cases clocking 6,070 and the president allegedly planning to lift the intercounty lockdown, what does this mean to the thousands of inmates around the country?
Kenya's criminal justice system has been known to break self-proclaimed hardcore. The country’s justice system has been found to have numerous features that have never changed from the 1900s. What this means, is that the same harsh and undignified conditions that our forefathers faced during the colonial era are being witnessed by Kenyans in correctional facilities today. The correctional facilities have never received any type of renovation or a facelift as millennials call them. The Nairobi Remand Facility was built in 1911, while the Shimo la Tewa prison was built in 1953 . The aged buildings tell different stories, of men and women who were caught on the wrong side of the law. People who either stole a chicken or embezzled corporate funds are equalized by the countries justice system.
Once arrested, which according to the Criminal Justice System in Kenya, an audit which is a report that was released by Chief Justice Maraga recently, most arrests take place on Fridays.15.4% of arrested countrywide take place on Friday with the least taking place on Tuesday. Arrested persons will stay in a police cell that is most likely filthy and poorly ventilated. This said place increases the chances of contracting either scabies, tuberculosis or diarrhoea. Once a person survives the horrid situations at police cells, they are arraigned court, during this process they will probably be huddled into another dinghy enclosure, this time a court cell, as they wait to appear before a magistrate or a judge. The next step is remand, where an individual will have to suffer inhumane conditions. The remand facilities just like cells have shortcomings which include limitations on detainees speaking with their lawyers. This can be blamed on the fact that there are no consultation rooms and the infrastructure does not cater for this.
Remand facilities have also overcrowded a case in point is the Meru remand which at some point held 802 people against its capacity of 200. Poor meals, different pests like lice and bedbugs are the order of the day in different remand facilities across the country. If found guilty, the arrested person will end up either in Shimo La Tewa or the Langata Women's Prison which are thoroughly overcrowded. Interestingly, research has found that those charged with petty offences make the highest population of prisoners.
With the above picture in mind, my big ask is how are the inmates being protected from the Covid-19 virus? What measures are being taken to ensure that new offenders do not directly mix with the old? Is screening of wardens and other staff who are allowed in and out of the correctional services taking place? Do the inmates sanitize or use masks on a day to day basis as we do? Is there any form of social distancing and if yes, to what degree? The move by the commissioner-general of prisons Mr Wcyllif Ogolla to stop prison visits is commendable but what is being done for Kamau who is in a crowded prison at the moment? Already 31 patients had tested positive for Covid-19 this was after they had completed their 21-day quarantine. What does this say about the measures put in place to prevent Covid-19 from spreading in the correctional facilities?
A solution has to be found, as the Covid-19 issue in prisons is a ticking time bomb.