Walvis prison hit by staff shortage

By Maria Kandjungu


THE Walvis Bay correctional facility is experiencing a shortage of staff after 61 of its workers including the two who recently tested positive for Covid-19, were placed in quarantine.

Last week two correctional facility officials tested positive marking the first cases of Covid-19 within the correction facilities and also the first community transmission case in the country.  Consequently, the health ministry is doing mass testing at the facility which has since seen a total of 83 isolated. Of those, 61 are officials and 22 are offenders.

Head of the Namibian Correctional Services Central Staff Directorate, Commissioner Sam Shaalulange told Confidente that as the contact tracing and mass testing continues at the facility, they are bracing themselves for more officials being placed in quarantine.

“We have a staff strength of about 150 personnel at the facility. Now, minus 61, because 59 are quarantine awaiting results while the other two already tested positive… A few more may follow and that is our main concern. We have a situation where we are left with less than 90 personnel at the facility and that can pose as a security risk,” he stated.

Shaalulange added that they are trying to explore all possible measures to ensure that security is not compromised at the facility while trying to deal with the pandemic.

According to him, measures that they are looking at include encouraging staff not to take leave while calling back those who were already on leave.

“Testing is still going on and everything is very much in the hands of the Ministry of Health. Results are coming in everyday and so far, those that we received are negative.

“It’s a bit of a difficult situation for everyone. We also trying to ensure that we have enough officers on day shifts when offenders are out and roaming around. There is higher security risk during the day because the facility is open than at night when they locked up,” he stated noting that equally they cannot afford to loosen security during the night as tight security during that time is crucial.

Anxieties among offenders

Anxieties have risen among offenders and family members of those at correctional facilities countrywide since the infection of the two Walvis Bay officials.

This week inmates from the Windhoek central facility reached out to Confidente to expression their concern with the lack of proper precaution taken by officers on duty during the pandemic.

The offenders specifically pointed out that during routine random searches done on them, most officers come without gloves or masks, touching their food and doing body searches without first washing their hands or sanitising them.

“Our health is at risk. There are no sanitisers at the cells, they come from outside without masks or gloves and they touch our things. We want them to come up with another way of searching that does not involve them especially touching our food during the coronavirus or at least they should wear masks and gloves because we do not know where they are coming from. They are bringing viruses to us and we do not feel safe around them,” the offenders noted through a spokesperson.

They further complained that they are not given information about the virus and they only hear things on the radio and according to them the last time someone came to talk to them was in early March during the lockdown.

“We have never been given masks even though they are being made here. Only the few people who work in the workshop have them. We don’t know if they are waiting for one officer to test positive first before they can consider our health. We have on several occasions asked for the manager to come see us so we can raise our concerns, but he never showed up.”

Shaalulange however said that all entrances are equipped with sanitiser gun sprays, running water containers and devices for temperature screening.

“These are just people panicking but I can assure you all necessary measures are in place. In fact, we are being even stricter since the Walvis Bay cases and all officers in charge are instructed to wear masks and take precaution when dealing with inmates. We have gone as far as to fine those who disobey,” he said adding that random searching will continue to take place as it is one of the security measures that cannot be compromised.