The State Department of Correctional Services has announced that it will introduce guidance and counseling services in penal facilities across the country.
The programme is a government initiative to guide and prevent prison officers from being attacked by mental health disorders.
The programme will involve the provision of weekly guidance and counseling forums to prison officers where individuals with mental health disorder-like symptoms will be identified for counseling.
Recently, there have been disturbing reports of disciplined officers involved in crimes such as the killing of family members thus raising fears over the safety of the members of the general public.
Addressing the press in Kwale Main Prison in Matuga Sub-County, the Commissioner General of Prisons (CGP), Wycliffe Ogallo, said the programme will help prison officers deal with work related stress.
Ogalo added that the department has already constituted regional counseling committees to deal with the matter and similar committees shall further be established at the county levels.
“We are determined to safeguard the mental health of our security officers, the guidance and counseling will help prison staffs manage stress instigated by critical issues such as love and finance,” Ogallo said.
The guidance and counseling committees comprise of finance experts to guide officers on matters of finances such as loans and personal finance management.
The Commissioner-General of Prisons noted that security officers with a strong religious background will also be part of the committees to guide members on matters of love, family, and lifestyle.
Ogallo hailed the prison officers and the inmates for the high Covid-19 vaccination uptake. He disclosed that close to 99% of the 29,000 prison officers and 51,000 inmates have been vaccinated across the country.
He said the vaccinated prison staff and inmate population cut across the 133 prisons countrywide.
Ogallo disclosed that the high uptake of the Covid -19 vaccination has opened a window for the resumption of prison visits by family members and other members of society after being suspended for 18 months.
“Families and other members of the public are now free to visit all correctional centres across the country. But as they do so, we are strict to ensure that all the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Health are in place and followed properly,” Ogallo said.
The government suspended prison visits in March 2020 following the outbreak of the Covid -19 pandemic. The GCP noted that at the height of the pandemic, seven inmates succumbed to the virus.
He urged prison staff to remain vigilant and protect inmates from contracting the virus despite the facilities experiencing challenges in keeping social distance.
Furthermore, Ogallo noted that the promotion of long-serving officers is ongoing. The promotion schedule is targeting prison officers who joined the service from the 1980s and 1990s.
“The promotions are in line with the laws guiding promotion in the security department and those who qualify shall be promoted and no one will ever be denied of their right,” Ogallo said.
He added that the promotion will be conducted fairly without favour and the issue of gender balance shall be considered as required by law.
The CGP warned the security officers against sneaking contraband into prisons saying those found breaking the law shall be held responsible.
“We have heard cases of inmates having mobile phones in prisons. Such possessions are unlawful and we are extending our surveillance to do away with such habits,” said Ogallo.
He further warned inmates against attempting jail breaks as it occurred in Nanyuki Prison in October this year. Ogallo said those found in such acts will be charged for the offence and punished accordingly.
The top prison officer asked members of the public to accept back inmates released from prisons. He said many former convicts have been discriminated against and isolated once they are released from prisons making them suffer psychologically to a point of committing suicide.
The Commissioner General said that once detainees are released from prisons they are transformed and ready to begin a new chapter in life.
Ogallo said the Correctional Department introduced industrial training of convicts on skills such as carpentry and masonry to empower them economically once they are released from prisons.
The CGP asked the prison staff to handle inmates with love and humanity. He said the old culture of beating and dehumanising prisoners is outdated and should be avoided.
He said the reforms the government has introduced in prisons have made the facilities friendly to inmates.
Ogallo asked the community to offer support to the prisoners by contributing items such as food, beddings and mattresses.
He hailed the dedication made by The Call to Humanity Organisation (CHO) for sinking a borehole worth Sh1.7 in Kwale Main prison. He said the borehole will help inmates have access to clean water and prevent them from being attacked by diseases such as cholera.
“We encourage such contributions from members of the public. These inmates are our brothers, sons, daughters, fathers, and mothers. Let’s dedicate to bettering these facilities for their well-being,” Ogallo said.
The Call for Humanity Organisation is a Community-Based Organisation for youth in Mombasa County. The group is dedicated to changing the lives of inmates across the coastal region.
The group relies on well-wishers and other charity organisations to fund their outstanding projects in society.
The CGP noted that the government is working on plans to have prisons expanded and others established to decongest the facilities. He added that congestion in prisons is caused by the high rate of crimes in society.
He said that already some medium prisons are being upgraded to maximum prisons to cater to the demands.
By Raymond Zaka and Hussein Abdullahi