Mobile phones a headache for prison authorities

Say metal detector is faulty, prisoners hide them in their private parts

In Summary

•Authorities say there's one faulty metal detector at Shimo la Tewa Maximum Prison. They need six good ones 

•Say phones pose a security challenge and help prisoners and other fraudsters con people 

Prison authorities have called for the Senate’s help in preventing mobile phones from getting into maximum security prisons.

They say keeping mobiles out of prisons has become a huge problem.

There's only one metal detector at Shimo la Tewa Maximum Prison and it's broken; they need six good ones.

The phones pose a security challenge in the correctional facilities. They let inmates communicate with each other, fellow criminals outside and help they commit fraud to rob people.

Shimo la Tewa Maximum Prison officer in charge Jonathan Maingi on Friday told the Senate Committee on Justice, Legal Affairs and Human Rights that they need more sophisticated equipment to detect mobile phones. 

“The searches done here are largely manual. This is not as effective as it should be,” he told the committee which toured the facility on Friday. 

The committee also visited the Kilifi Prison on Friday and Kwale Prison on Saturday.

The committee is expected to hold a public forum today at the Kenya School of Government in Mombasa with families of victims of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances.

On Friday, senior assistant commissioner of prisons Patrick Mwenda said authorities have failed several times get the government to increase funding to the Prisons department to purchase jammers and detectors.  


“We have included the same in our budgets for years but we have never been successful," Mwenda said.

Prison authorities need the installation of wireless networks that run on the same platform as mobile phones to disrupt communication.

Mwenda said installation of more CCTV cameras is needed. 

Shimo la Tewa Maximum Prison head of security intelligence Kenrodgers Kyalo said prisoners, especially repeat ones, have devised ways to prevent detection of mobile phones.

Kyalo said some prisoners and visitors stash the phones in their private parts when getting into prison, making it difficult to detect them. 

“Some stash up to three mobile phones in their backside or front side for women,” he said.

Nandi Senator Samson Cherarkey said the committee will recommend increased funding to improve prison security.

“These are fundamental issues you raised which need to be looked into seriously. Many Kenyans have lost hundreds of millions of shillings to these conmen who are usually traced to Kamiti and other maximum prisons,” the committee chairman said. 

The prison authorities also want innovative ways of dealing with petty offenders who are overcrowding prisons and overstretching their resources. 

Shimo la Tewa, for example, has a capacity of 700 inmates but is holding 1,526 prisoners.

Since it is a maximum security prison, it is supposed to hold prisoners sentenced to 10 years and more, as well as prisoners on remand who are likely to be sentenced to five years and above.

Of the 1,526 prisoners, about 506 are on remand;  200 of those are petty offenders. 

WATCH: The latest videos from the Star