Behind bars: Tales of the living dead

November 25, 2008 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, November 26 – The death of a condemned inmate during a search for contraband at the Kamiti Maximum Prison last week ignited widespread condemnation on warders.
It even led to the interdiction of five prison officers who participated in the operation besides the compulsory leave handed to the Officer-in- Charge Joseph Mutevesi and the facility’s chief security officer.

The marching orders extended to Naivasha G.K Prison, where at least 30 prison warders were axed.

Mr Mutevesi who maintained that the condemned Kamiti prisoner died of natural causes has been blamed for use of excessive force and violation of inmates’ rights.

Capital Courts and Crime team spent the past week investigating such operations, their challenges and implications.

“It is a routine operation, we keep checking the inmates from time to time; it is only that there was an incident this time where an inmate died,” Commissioner of Prisons Isaiah Osugo said, who added that there was a clear outline and general rules of conduct for prison officers.

“These are standard guidelines which should be observed at all times,” he added.

The guidelines, he said, mainly implore warders to view inmates as human beings.

“They are not supposed to degrade them at all. They are supposed to employ the highest levels of professionalism. This applies to both inmates and warders,” Mr Osugo said.

At the Kamiti Maximum Prison, we established that things are totally different.

Save for a few warders who are in good terms with the inmates, most likely because of collusion in trafficking drugs and other contraband items, the relationship between officers and the prisoners is frosty.

Vulgar language from both inmates and prison warders is the order of the day.

During operations such as the one that left a condemned inmate dead, it is common for inmates to be stripped, beaten up and even scalded with hot water as witnessed in horrifying video clips that dominated local TV screens recently.

A hard job

A warder who spoke to Capital News told of the tribulations they undergo and the risks associated with their job.

“We look after very dangerous people who have been rejected out there. Many of them have even defeated the police,” the warder who requested to remain anonymous said.

“We usually try to be good to them but they never take any of that, they see us as their enemies. It is as if they blame us for their jail terms yet we played no role in them,” another warder said, and added that it is inevitable for them to be harsh to the inmates.

For instance, he said, whenever an operation is taking place in search of contraband goods and drugs, the inmates will never cooperate or hand them over unless excessive force is applied.

“You have to force them to give you a mobile phone. There is no day they will ever understand,” the warder said.

“In most cases, we even fight with them to get the drugs from them because they treasure them so much.”

Such are the horrifying experience told by almost all the warders we interviewed at the Kamiti Maximum Prison.

One of the warders who was recently transferred from the Naivasha GK Prison recalls how his colleague was bludgeoned to death by death row inmates during a night operation in search of drugs.

The inmate who was later arrested and charged with the warder’s murder was also transferred to the Kamiti Prison where he is serving his sentence.

“We risk our lives a lot yet no one ever comes out to defend us whenever we are injured or our human rights violated. The activists only want to represent the rights of the inmates,” he complained.

Last week, warders searching for mobile phones in a block housing hardcore criminals were soaked in human waste and porridge as the inmates blocked them from accessing the premise.

“Inmates can do anything including killing to protect their livelihoods. They use these mobile phones to communicate to their relatives and their colleagues out there besides extorting from the public. And there are those who can not survive without drugs,” he said.

While Mr Osugo struggles to reform the Prison Department, perhaps he will need to keep in mind that his warders – although not justified to use excessive force on inmates – they operate under very difficult conditions.

The Commissioner already admits that he recently witnessed a scenario involving a warder who was taking him on a tour of the facility. According to Mr Osugo, an inmate splashed hot porridge on the warder’s face. During the ensuing confusion, other prisoners tore the officer’s uniform before colleagues came to his rescue.

“I know we are dealing with dangerous people, but my warders do not have an option, they have to work within the law. Anyone who violates the law will face the consequences,” Osugo told Capital News.

“I will not tolerate any level of impunity from either inmates or warders. They have to tow the line and observe the law,” he added.


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