Inmates squeezed into overcrowded cells

Ombudsman releases damning report

15 September 2021 | Police

JANA-MARI SMIT

WINDHOEK

The Ombudsman’s 2020 annual report shows that many Namibian police stations are overcrowded and in bad shape.

Released on Monday, the report shows the office dealt with 2 590 individual complaints and requests for information or advice in 2020 - 613 fewer than 2019.

In addition to dealing with incoming complaints, the Ombudsman initiated his own investigations and inspections, including detention centre inspections.

One of the investigations successfully concluded dealt with a lack of running water for over a year at the Omungwelume police station.

“Inmates collected water in two-litre plastic bottles from an outside tap for drinking, washing and flushing of toilets,” the report stated.

After a request to address the matter urgently was ignored by the home affairs ministry, court proceedings were initiated.

“The matter was settled outside court [and] the Ombudsman was informed that the defects were repaired,” it noted.

Squeezed tight

Visits to police cells included inspections of Covid-19 protection protocols, listening to prisoner complaints and inspecting the state of cells.

At the time of the inspection last year, the Okahao police station was housing 110 inmates in a station geared to cater for 45.

“This is a serious issue as the hygiene of the cells and inmates is compromised,” the inspectors found.

Omuthiya police station housed 307 inmates during the inspection, despite only having a capacity for 150 persons.

The Tsumeb police station was overcrowded with more than double its capacity. At the time of the visit, 111 inmates were in custody while the station only has capacity for 42.

Upon enquiry, the Ombudman’s inspectors were informed by the acting station commander that the overcrowding was a result of the “refusal of bail by the court and the inability of some inmates to afford bail. He further informed us that the station was understaffed, with only one institutional worker who does not work over weekends.”

Oshakati was similarly overcrowded, with a total of 202 inmates squeezed into cells with a total capacity of 130.

Moreover, the station commander confirmed that inmates were served only two meals instead of the mandated three a day, due to a lack of food supply.

Dilapidated

The Aus police station was found in a “deplorable condition”, the reported noted, adding that the “infrastructure is old and broken”. It was, however, at the time only housing six inmates, with a capacity for 36.

With only a handful exceptions, many of the police stations inspected by the Office of the Ombudsman were described as severely dilapidated and unfit for human occupation.

Conditions of the cells at Grootfontein were described as “not conducive for human habitation, with most of the toilets and showers being out of order. The cells were dirty and overcrowded”.

At Epukiro police station, the station commander complained that it lacked sufficient staff, while in Otjiwarongo, a severe shortage of toilet paper was reported, with inmates forced “to make use of newspapers, and these newspapers caused blockage to the sewerage pipes”.

“Most cells had broken toilets and showers, and a number of the lights in the cells were not functional.”

Bugs

Meanwhile, at Leonardville, inspectors found that the toilets were not functioning properly and “insects could be seen all over the cells”.

At Gobabis, inspectors found “visibly overcrowded cells that were dirty and infested with cockroaches and other insects”.

A more than two-month lack of toilet paper at Otavi prompted a direct request by the Office of the Ombudsman to the regional police headquarters.

One hundred rolls of toilet paper were promptly delivered to the station one week later, the report stated.

Many police stations reported a lack of light bulbs, forcing inmates to be kept in the dark at night.

Only a handful of stations were found in good condition, including Gobabis Correctional Facility, which was “neat and tidy”, and the Oranjemund station, which was “clean”, with “no complaints received from the inmates”.