Kenya prison chiefs grapple with order

June 28, 2010 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, Jun 28 – The Prisons department has been thrown into a spin following last week’s court ruling which allowed the registration of inmates as voters for the August 4 referendum.

Interviews with officials at the Prisons Headquarters revealed that senior officers have been meeting since Friday to iron-out pertinent issues arising out of the court ruling.

Among the issues arising is how to determine who holds a valid Identity Card and those who may have been detained in juvenile centres and have now been transferred to maximum security prisons after attaining the age of 18.

The Prison authorities also say they do not know if the court ruling is only binding to prisoners who were already in custody when the order was issued.

“It is a major challenge facing us… the court ruling did not elaborate these issues,” one Prison warder at the Industrial Area Remand said.

With only three days to go, prison chiefs have been holding daily strategy meetings since Friday to prepare a document listing their concerns before they sit for a round-table meeting with officials from the Interim Independent Electoral Commission [IIEC] and those from the Attorney General’s office later this week.

“Those are major issues we want raised in the meeting so that we can get to know what exactly is supposed to be done,” said another senior officer whom we cannot name because he is not allowed to discuss policy matters with the media without the authority of his seniors.

A source who attended one of the strategy meetings held on Monday told Capital News that security concerns had been raised, considering the shortage of warders in most prison facilities.

“Carrying out voter registration for inmates means we allow strangers to walk in and out of the prison gates, it will mean we enhance security to ensure our inmates are safe,” the source said. “We are dealing with very dangerous people who can decide to plot an escape. That is why we are looking at the issue of security.”

There is also a general feeling that the one week given for the registration exercise is too short because of the large number of prisoners and prison facilities countrywide.

There are about 65,000 inmates in all the 103 prisons countrywide but the IIEC has announced it will only gazette 70 of them as registration and voting centres.

Prison officials who spoke to Capital News said they were yet to agree on what will happen to inmates in prisons which will not be gazetted by the IIEC.

“The only available option is to transport the inmates to the registered centres, which is also a major challenge because of security and lack of enough vehicles and personnel to guard them,” one official involved in the logistics said.

“Considering the fact that we have various categories of prisoners, it means we will be forced to register them in that same way, it is not practical to have this done in a week.”

Commissioner of Prisons Isaiah Osugo when reached for comment said: “It is a challenge for us but we will overcome it.”

“We are in the process of laying down all the ground work.  There should be no cause to worry. All that is supposed to be done will be done,” he said and declined to discuss details of the challenges they are facing.

“All the necessary arrangements are being made and we will certainly be ready within the required time-frame,” he added.

The prisons bosses are expected to meet with the IIEC and officials from the Attorney General’s office before Friday to discuss the modalities of registering the prisoners.

The ruling to have all the inmates registered as voters was made last week in a case filed by the Kituo Cha Sheria lobby group which had moved to court to represent inmates from Shimo La Tewa who wanted to be listed as voters in the August 4 referendum.


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