Kenya: Thousands of Petty Offenders Released During Covid-19 Pandemic

30 September 2020

More than 10,000 petty offenders have been released from correctional facilities across the country during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to Commissioner General of Prisons Wycliffe Ogallo.

This leaves the country's prison facilities with 42,596 inmates at its 129 penal institutions.

The release of the inmates is part of the resolutions made by the National Council on the Administration of Justice (NCAJ) to decongest prisons by releasing petty offenders jailed for less than six months and those with less than six months to complete their jail terms.

In April, NCAJ Chairman, Chief Justice David Maraga announced that the High Court had started receiving files of the inmates in that category in order to review their sentences before releasing them.

The exercise saw 4,800 inmates released at the time to curb the spread of Covid-19.

Isolation centres

Other measures that the Kenya Prisons Service put in place were setting up isolation centres for new inmates to reduce the risk of the spread of Covid-19 and the use of technology in prisons to enable inmates to participate in virtual trials as opposed to being produced in open courts.

In addition, prison visits were suspended and prison labour reduced to a bare minimum as a Covid 19 prevention strategy.

"These measures are firm and indeed have been impactful in our bid to protect the vulnerable prisons population," Mr Ogallo said yesterday.

"This has been made possible by our robust partnerships with non-state actors including the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Kenya Red Cross Society, Faraja foundation and Umma Foundation, who have assisted a lot especially on matters sanitation," he added.

While the recommended social distancing rule cannot be attained in prisons, Mr Ogallo said the situation has improved and that the pandemic is no longer an issue of major concern.

New inmates

An earlier arrangement to have new inmates held at police cells for a while as they await their Covid-19 results to gain admission to prison facilities was reversed at the beginning of this month following a directive by the deputy Inspector General in charge of the Kenya Police Service Edward Mbugua.

Mr Mbugua ordered police commanders to release suspects, who had been committed to jail, to prison authorities instead of holding them at stations' cells.

"Remandees are properties of the Kenya Prisons Service and should not be held at police cells unless the remand warrant directs so. The Kenya Prisons Service has to test them since they are no longer under the custody of the Kenya Police Service," the order stated in part.

Suspects cease to be under the care of police once they have taken plea and a committal warrant designated for their stay at a prison is issued by the court.

However, with the Covid-19 pandemic, an internal arrangement between the police, Judiciary and the Kenya Prisons department had prolonged remandees' stay at the cells until they got tested for the virus. The move was aimed at curbing a worrying spread of the disease in prisons, where several inmates had tested positive.

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