The State Department of Correctional Services in Kwale County has lifted the ban on prison visits imposed last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Prison visits were suspended in March 2020, when the government-imposed strict guidelines to combat the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The directive comes after a vaccination drive by the Ministry of Interior and Coordination of the National Government to vaccinate all prisoners with Covid-19 vaccines.
In Kwale County, the Department of Correctional Services says it has vaccinated 90% of its prison staff and inmate population against Covid-19.
Addressing the press at Kwale Main Prison in Matuga Sub County, County Prison Warden, Hassan Ali, said all prisons in the county are now free for the public. “I believe that the higher rates of vaccinations in our facilities will definitely help us curb the prevalence of the virus in our system,” Ali said.
Ali said inmates in the region will now resume in-person visits with family and friends for the first time since the President lifted the ban on prison visits last week.
The Senior Warden asked visitors to strictly comply with the Ministry of Health’s guidelines such as wearing face masks and social distancing to prevent the correctional facilities from being ravaged by the coronavirus.
“Members of the public can make their visits in our facilities, but we are very strict to guarantee the safety of the inmates. The Covid-19 pandemic has forced us to introduce some changes on how these visits shall be managed and individuals planning to visit prisons should cooperate,” he said.
The county prison warden noted that despite the suspension of physical visits, the Correctional Services Department introduced customer care mobile phones that facilitated contact between prisoners and their families.
“’In the last 18 months of physical separation, the Kwale main prison has been using Sh1000 worth of airtime daily to enable the prisoners to communicate with their loved ones. The government introduced the mobile system to ensure normalcy in our facilities,” said Ali.
He said phone access has been expanded due to the importance of communication with loved ones and ensuring some inmates’ mental health does not deteriorate.
Ali said during the lockdown period, the government intensified guidance and counseling services in the facilities, targeting vulnerable groups like women who had left their infants at home and newly married members of the public who found themselves behind the bars.
He said in October, 22 inmates completed a 10-day art therapy session that is designed to create a conducive environment for personal transformation and help the inmates find relief from negative emotions and trauma.
The prison boss said at the height of the pandemic 12 positive cases of the virus were reported in the prisons within Kwale, but the management moved with speed to control the situation.
Ali expressed gratitude to the members of the public and community organizations for the support they offered during the pandemic. He said even during the harsh period, the inmates didn’t lack anything ranging from foodstuffs to clothing and beddings.
Ali said during the lockdown, they mobilized Community-Based Organizations, well-wishers and religious organizations to donate clothes to the prisons.
“During that time, we had many remand suspects awaiting hearing and conviction and they faced a shortage of clothes but through the support from individuals and societies, we were able to address the issue,” Ali said.
He said the facility is currently awaiting a donation of 200 beds and bed sheets from the Diani Rotary Club and other donors.
However, he said, the management discourages members of the public from monetary donations as they may propagate corruption which can eventually lead to serious security problems.
The senior prison officer noted that the government has improved services in the facilities, especially meals and medication and now the inmates have access to balanced diet meals and constant medical checkups.
“The people inside here have their constitutional rights like other Kenyans and the government is keen to ensure such rights are not violated. The department is governed by the principles and ethos of the constitution,” Ali noted.
He added that the department does not encourage nor support corporal punishment and harassment as it has been the case in the 1980s and 90s.
He said the time the inmates spend in the facilities is enough to transform them. The government introduced a special program in prisons to train and equip convicts with technical skills to support them once they are released from prison.
He said in Kwale prisons, the program has helped many convicts to be professional carpenters, footballers, and comedians and they will showcase their talents to the members of the public during the talents day to be held on November 11, 2021 at Kwale Main Prison in Matuga Sub-County.
“We have approximately 100 individuals with different talents in comedy, music, poetry, painting, and acrobatics. The staff has identified one such individual whose talent in music needs to be nurtured. If we can find a way to sponsor a studio session and video shoot, we can help secure this boy’s future after he’s released,” Ali said.
Ali noted that the government through the Ministry of Education, has remained supportive in ensuring that inmates who terminated their studies are back to class. He said Kwale Main Prison has specialized military personnel posted by the Ministry of Defense to teach students.
He said last year a student scored 380 marks in the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education Examination.
Ali said currently, the Ministry of Education is building structures that will be used as the academic block for both primary and secondary school students.
The warden noted that the government is finalizing plans to construct a dispensary in the prison that will help the inmates and members of the public through its Corporate Social Responsibility.
“We have five prisoners in a condition that requires them to take methadone and we have to take them to Kwale General Hospital every day. And we have other patients suffering from epilepsy. Such cases require medical personnel on the ground and we hope to have the facility ready to save us the cost,” he said.
Samuel Mwachirumbi, an inmate in Kwale Main prison, lauded the management for transforming their lives and creating a good environment for them. He said the management has been very supportive both physically and spiritually thus transforming the facility into a home.
“There is no harassment here and we enjoy life. We have everything and life is good and we hope that every person who comes here will change their habits and be a good person in society” said Mwachirumbi.
By Primerose Omoto and Hussein Abdullahi