PRISONS REFORMS

Inmate visitations to resume in new plan, officials say

Guchu says they will vaccinate all inmates and staff against the virus.

In Summary

• At least 14 inmates have lost their lives to Covid-19, officials said.

• At the height of the pandemic, up to 5,000 inmates were quarantined to contain the spread of the virus.

Interior CAS Winnie Guchu during the workshop in Naivasha on June 10
Interior CAS Winnie Guchu during the workshop in Naivasha on June 10
Image: Handout

The government will soon allow prisoners to be visited by their families.

Visits to correctional facilities were suspended more than a year ago due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

At least 14 inmates have lost their lives to Covid-19, officials said.

At the height of the pandemic, up to 5,000 inmates were quarantined to contain the spread of the virus.

Interior Chief Administrative Secretary Winnie Guchu said the move to allow visits was part of the measures being undertaken to address cases of mental health concerns in correctional facilities.

“We are working very closely with the Ministry of Health on what we can adopt so that we can open up for visitation. We will work to ensure we do not introduce Covid-19 in prisons,” she said.

Guchu praised the Kenya Prisons Service for its efforts in mitigating threats posed by Covid-19 that has seen the department witness fewer mortality rates despite the obvious challenges that prisons face such as overcrowding and poor sanitation.

She made the remarks at a workshop organised by the Prisons Department, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Kenya Red Cross Society to explore ways of addressing the needs of the service.

Deputy Commissioner of Prisons Florence Omundi said the move was timely and necessary as some inmates have suffered mental health challenges due to the suspension of visits.

“Mental health is very important. We have realised that because of the lockdown and lack of visitation, our inmates have been affected. It is important they connect with their families.”

“Prisoners are people too, and they experience the same challenges we do when we do not interact with our family members,” she said.

Guchu said they will vaccinate all inmates and staff against the virus.

Already, 15,000 have been vaccinated and plans are underway to vaccinate at least 50,000 inmates and 48,000 prison staff.

“We are estimating we need 100,000 vaccines,” Guchu said.

The Ministry of Health is conducting a four-month survey in all prisons to establish the effects of the pandemic on inmates.

Kenya Red Cross Society deputy secretary general Annette Msabeni said they were working closely with prisons to reduce the risk of infections in penal institutions.

“There is a level of hesitance from across the country, but we also know there is a level of excitement among others knowing it is through vaccination that we will be contributing through prevention.”

“Social mobilisation is important, so people can know what the vaccine is all about, who should take the vaccine, when and why. Once educated on them, they can take the vaccine when its available,” Msabeni said.

Alternatives to pre-trial detention and imprisonment are expected to be devised to decongest the facilities.