Inmates facing precarious situation

In the dark

07 July 2020 | Local News

Family member: “…he resorted to using laundry washing powder to wash his body…”

Walvis Bay • ot[email protected]


An inmate incarcerated at the Walvis Bay prison has told his sister that he is deeply concerned about hygienic conditions in the confines of the correctional facility.

Last week news broke of a reported seven (two inmates and five staff members) Covid-19 positive confirmed cases at the prison.

The sister of an inmate who spoke on condition of anonymity (out of fear of him being victimised by authorities), told Erongo 24/7 that she had received a phone call from her distraught brother.

“He told me that everybody in the prison was in panic mode after an inmate suffering from a high fever was carried from a cell by medical personnel late one night last week to receive medical treatment. Between 30 and 40 inmates are housed in a cell. We do not know what is going on. We are waiting for the worst to happen, my brother said.”

The inmate also told his sister that the prisoners had no masks and that there was no sanitising substance available for their use.

“Conditions deteriorated rapidly and have now reached extreme levels. At this stage we do not get regular meals,” the inmate alleged while pleading with the ministry of health and social services to intervene.

Prison visits have been suspended for over a month.

‘In the dark’

The inmate’s sister said she and many others were in the dark about the wellbeing of their incarcerated family members.

“We are very worried. We cannot visit our incarcerated family members since the arrival of Covid-19. We paid money into my brother’s account, but he told us that he was unable to use it as the shops apparently refuse to provide items on the lists requested by prisoners. My brother told me that he resorted to using laundry washing powder to wash his body because there is no soap or any other toiletries available.”

According to a source (Warder Y) employed at the facility, it is unfortunate that the virus has breached prison walls.

“It all started with Case 32, a female (31) correctional officer stationed at the facility who tested positive on 10 July. Those who subsequently tested positive are in quarantine and additional measures have been put in place. The officer in charge of the prison, who resides at a residence on the prison premises, is also in quarantine.”

Warder Y did not want to elaborate on how many inmates in quarantine at the facility.

Quarantined

Erwin Axakhoeb, the officer in charge at Walvis Bay Correctional Services, confirmed that he was in quarantine and said he did not want to comment on the issue of Covid-19 at the facility before consulting with officials from headquarters in Windhoek.

“It has been a very busy week for us. I will get back to you.”

However, Warder Y said that single cells were allocated to quarantine offenders while prison officials were self-quarantined.

“Offenders who arrive from police stations or other facilities are quarantined for 14 days. Any offender who tests positive for Covid-19 is removed by the ministry of health and social services.”

Warder Y added that prison officials at the facility had also been on the receiving end of unwarranted stigmatisation ever since news of the female warder who tested positive became public.

“Taxi drivers do not want to allow prison officials into their vehicles and shop owners refuse us access. However, our family members are very supportive.”

Warder Y also pointed out that photos of the correctional officers who tested positive for Covid-19 were being circulated on social media.

“These posts also contained some speculation and false allegations accusing the first colleague who tested positive of sleeping with a truck driver who had also tested positive. This woman is married, so one can imagine the hurt these rumours caused. It is not good for a sick person to be traumatised like this. There should be consequences for those spreading false information.”

Closed environment

Warder X said that it was not easy to work in a confined space and a closed environment, especial in a time of Covid-19.

“We thought the virus was confined after all staff members were tested. Now more positive cases have emerged. This leaves one wondering how many officials and inmates are actually infected at the facility. The next question that comes to mind is whether to shut down the whole facility. There is also a suggestion to transfer inmates who are not infected with Covid-19 to other facilities.”

The prison with 77 staff members, houses an estimated 250 inmates.

The facility consists of four sections. The A section accommodate eight wards that can accommodate 22 inmates each, and four single cells. The cooks are also housed in two separate cells which can each accommodate 22 inmates. The B section consists of four cells with capacity of 30 persons each; the C section consists of five single cells that can accommodate two prisoners each; and the D section consist of a single ward capable of accommodating 30 persons.

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