Saturday, December 7, 2013
- When a group of Kenyan judges decided to visit the Kamiti Maximum prison located on the outskirts of the capital Nairobi, they did not expect to find the inmates naked.
The judges had gone to the jail to investigate complaints by inmates of deteriorating sanitary conditions caused by overcrowding.
The visit, was sparked by a number of anonymous letters from prison inmates which were leaked to the press. The judges verdict was to describe the prison as “death chambers”.
As a result, a number of judges, have threatened to set convicts free if the government of President Daniel arap Moi fails to improve prison conditions to the required standards.
According to the letters the prisoners are generally under clothed and underfed. They say overcrowding in the cells has resulted in unhygienic conditions which have given rise to an increase in the spread of communicable diseases.
One letter from Kodiaga prison, in Western Kenya, published in a local daily, claims an increase in deaths among inmates following a drastic reduction in daily food rations in October last year.
The inmates said their daily ration had been halved from 500 grams to 250 grams of food, which, they say, is inadequate for the daily 12-hour hard labour they are are expected to perform.
The inmates also say prison authorities told them that the reduced food rations and lack of uniforms were the result of government’s decision to cut costs at the prison.
“This has left us sleeping on bare floors without covering ourselves for lack of blankets. Most of us are also left naked because our uniforms are shredded and there have been no replacements since 1996,” the letter stated.
Last month, a magistrate declared a prison in the town of Kapsabet, situated in the Rift Valley province, about 600 kilometres North west of Nairobi, “unfit for humans” following reports of an outbreak of infectious diseases.
The Kapsabet prison, with only a capacity for 56 prisoners, has reportedly been accomodating more than 400 inmates, who complained that they were not allowed to sleep or bath due to lack of space and water. Some 11 inmates in the same prison reportedly died from cholera and typhoid late last year.
The government says it has no funds to improve prison conditions and blames the situation on the decision in 1997 by its multilateral donors to halt funding to the East African country.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other major donors stopped a 240 million US Dollar funding to Kenya in July 1997 citing government failure to curb corruption.
Economists say the donor freeze has severely affected the Kenyan government’s ability to deliver major social services, including health and education and road maintenance. Prison services are the most affected by the freeze in donor funding.
However Shariff Nassir, Minister in the Office of the President, when taken to task on the plight of the country’s prisoners, is rported to have responded angrily saying: “prisons are not hotels” and inmates should not expect “VIP treatment” when the government has other priorities.
Human rights groups, which have been pressing for improvement in the treatment of prisoners, blame the deteriorating prison conditions on the lack of necessary political will to implement change.
“Bad as the situation is, the response of the government to reports of the appalling prison conditions in this country have largely been negative,” says Mugambi Kiai, a programme officer with the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC).
KHRC, which claims that an average of three people die daily in the country’s prison’s, says it has been seeking an audience with the Commissioner of Prisons, Edward Lopokoyit, since 1996 without success.
“Whenever our members make offers, even material, to improve prison conditions to even arrange for a meeting with Lopokoyit we are turned down. It is impossible,” says Kiai.
The controversy was further highlighted when the Kenya Medical Association (KMA), the professional body of all medical doctors in the East African country, was recently refused entry to Kodiaga prison, in western Kenya.
A spokesperson for the KMA says the visit was in response to reports of deteriorating health conditions and high incidences of HIV infection resulting from homosexual rapes.
He said the medics were met at the prison gate by officials who refused to be identified and who refused them entry. They were reportedly forced to wait outside the gates for two hours before typed rules of prison visits were posted on the prison gate.
The rules stated that persons who refuse to leave the prison area, are liable to arrests and if convicted, can face three month imprisonment with the option of a 500 shilling fine. (one US Dollar is equavilent to 70 shillings)
After three hours, the medics were confronted by a government land-rover van with 11 police officers in full riot gear. The KMA team could only leave a letter at the gate for the officer in charge informing him of their presence.
“We want to register profound concern for the health situation in Kenyan prisons in general and Kodiaga in particular,” the medics said in a statement signed by eight doctors.
The government recently approved the distribution of condoms in prisons in an attempt to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS in jail.
“We will continue to press for independent inspection of prison facilities all over the country by health professionals without necessarily having to “book” long appointments, since this has previously led the impromptu cosmetic changes and pre arranged guided tours,” says Ling Kituyi, who runs the Independent Medico- Legal Unit, an non governmental organisation which helps treat victims of torture.