Petty offenders freed as prisons seek to contain virus spread
George Kebaso and Hillary Mageka
Since incarcerated people are among the most vulnerable to disease outbreaks, the Kenya Prisons Service has come up with a raft of measures to contain the spread of coronavirus in the correctional facilities.
Two inmates have tested positive for the virus and another 42 have been isolated, and there are fears of the virus spreading due to overcrowding and lack of basic hygienic conditions.
KPS Commissioner General Wycliffe Ogallo yesterday said they were on high alert and had embarked on a decongestion process that has seen over 5,000 petty offenders released in the last one month.
Most of the inmates released were those serving jail sentences of less than six months, as directed by the High Court.
New inmates are isolated to reduce the risk of infection while prison visits have been suspended and instead phones, some offered by the Kenya Red Cross (KRC), have been availed to enable inmates to keep in touch with family members.
A total of 23 prisons are expected to build quarantine facilities where new arrivals can stay.
Ogalo also said prison labour had been reduced to bare minimum and sanitation facilities were either being set up or existing ones renovated.
Already, the Kenya Red Cross (KRC) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) have donated construction materials to the prisons for the construction of the structures.
“While the impact of this pandemic is global and does not discriminate )against) anyone, we know there are groups that are more vulnerable and require urgent attention,” KRC secretary general Dr Asha Mohammed said.
On Monday, Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i said the 42 inmates isolated had been in contact with the two inmates who tested positive.
“The government is working to upscale the capacity of the isolation centres in prison from the current 500 beds to 1,000 beds,” he told the Senate Ad hoc Committee on COVID-19 via Zoom.