Inmates squeezed into overcrowded cells

13 September 2021 | Justice

Windhoek • [email protected]

The Office of the Ombudsman 2020 annual report shows that many Namibian police stations are overcrowded and in bad shape.
The report, released on Monday, shows the Office of the Ombudsman dealt with 2 590 individual complaints and requests for information or advice in 2020 – 613 less than 2019.
In addition to dealing with incoming complaints, the office of the Ombudsman initiated their own investigations and inspections, including detention centre inspections.
One of the investigations that was successfully concluded dealt with the lack of running water for more than a year for inmates held 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 states.
After a request to address the matter urgently was ignored by the home affairs, immigration, safety and security ministry, court proceedings were initiated.
“The matter was settled outside court [and] the Ombudsman was informed that the defects were repaired,” the report notes.

Tight fit
Visits to police cells included inspections around Covid-19 protection protocols, listening to prisoner complaints and inspecting the state of overcrowding and cells.
At the time of the inspection last year, Okahao police station was housing 110 inmates in a station geared to cater for 45 persons. “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 last year, despite only having a capacity for 150 persons; The Tsumeb police station was overcrowded with more than double the capacity. At the time of the visit, 111 inmates were in custody while the station only has capacity for 42 inmates.
Upon enquiry, Ombudman 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.”
Similarly, Oshakati was overcrowded, with 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 meals a day, due to lack of food supply.

The Aus police station was found in a “deplorable condition. The infrastructure is old and broken,” the report noted. It was however at the time only housing six inmates, with a capacity for 36.
With 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 the time of the visit to the Epukiro police station, inspectors found cells that “dilapidated and unfit for human habitation”. Twenty inmates were held there at the time.
The stations commander complained that the station also lacked sufficient staff.
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 sewage pipes.”
“Most cells had broken toilets and showers, and a number of the lights in the cells were not functional.”

At Leonardville, inspectors found that the toilets were not functioning properly and “insects could be seen all over the cells”, while 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 a week later, the report states.
Many police stations reported 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 and there were no complaints received from the inmates”.