by Okeri Ngutjinazo

INMATES at Windhoek Correctional Facility fear contracting Covid-19 after four of them, who spent time in a cell with other inmates, tested positive for the novel coronavirus last week.

“We are at risk; we have children; we cannot die like this,” one of the inmates told The Namibian.

The facility’s total population cstands at 1 020.

The inmate said some of his fellow inmates have started showing symptoms of Covid-19, but have not been isolated.

He also complained of overcrowded cells.

In addition, an inmate died last Monday, possibly of Covid-19.

The inmate said the deceased inmate reported to guards he was not feeling well and had difficulty breathing.

Some of the inmates are refusing to be tested until the facility’s management listens to their concerns.

Commissioner Sam Shaalulange of the Namibian Correctional Service last week said as of 9 September, 481 inmates and 101 officers have been tested, and out of those 147 have tested positive – 128 inmates and 19 officers.

The correctional facility has further recorded 107 recoveries, 40 active cases and no deaths.

“Take note that an inmate passed away on Monday, 7 September. Although he did show signs and was kept in the unit for suspected cases, it is yet to be established whether he died as a result of the virus,” Shaalulange said.

He said to ensure the safety of inmates, they have suspended visits from family and friends, and allocated units for newly admitted offenders where they are observed for the prescribed seven days before admission into the general inmate population. In addition, separate units have been allocated for inmates showing symptoms, contacts and for those who test positive.

The facility’s healthcare staff members are on a 24-hour watch for any health-related complaints.

“We have allocated hand -washing, sanitisation and temperature-recording stations at all entry points, all units and the administration block, and have distributed masks to all inmates and officers,” Shaalulange said. He said inmates’ panic is to be expected.

“However, be assured that the NCS is doing everything within its power to keep both officers and offenders safe from the virus. In fact, as the government, we are obliged to uphold the Covid-19 lockdown regulations and we are doing just that and adding other measures suitable to the correctional setting,” he said.

President Hage Geingob on Friday during the 17th Covid-19 briefing said he had already pardoned some offenders to be released to decongest cells.

He said inmates do not have the luxury of isolating in cells.

“We are crossing our fingers not to get a serious outbreak in informal settlements and among inmates in those confined situations,” he said.

In May this year 1 004 inmates were pardoned by the president.

Shaalulange said: “Offenders are, however, being released as per their release dates, computed against the sentence length. Those who meet the parole and remission requirements are also only released when they meet those requirements.”

He added the NCS does not have the authority to release inmates other than that provided for in the Correctional Service Act of 2012, and can, for instance, not just release inmates to create space in correctional facilities due to Covid-19.

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