By: Uakutura Kambaekua, Justicia Shipena
Kunene Namibian police’s regional commander, commissioner James Nderura has expressed discontent on the overcrowding at the Opuwo prison, stating that incomplete investigations and delayed prosecutions contribute to the growing prison population.
He said this is a scenario he said is also being experienced all over the country. Nderura told The Villager in an interview that the overcrowdedness of the cells is becoming a national concern, one that requires swift and bold interventions to safeguard the country’s prison system’s stability.
According to the regional commander, Opuwo prison accommodates more than 50 per cent of the required capacity. “The overcrowdedness of the cells is a national concern and not just in Kunene. The cell capacity of Opuwo is made for 30 people, but now we have more than 85. It is over with 53 inmates, but it’s a national concern; national problem, not only in Opuwo,” stated Nderura.
Furthermore, Nderura refuted assertions in the media, in which Basilius Dyakugha stated that the inmates are living in poor conditions coupled with a lack of adequate water, adding that inmates are forced to collect water in plastic bottles from outside taps.
However, Nderura said that even though the situation at the prison is worsening, no inmates collect water outside the premises.
“Those are unfounded stories. We have enough water, water is running in the cells, and food is also enough. We don’t have a problem on any of these at the moment,” said Nderura.
He further said that the overcrowdedness is not entirely a matter of the police but the justice ministry as well in terms of case handling, prosecution and bail hearings, including delays of lawyers.
“These matters are not in our hands. The matter before the court is a matter of justice. It’s not up to the police to finalise these cases. We arrest, investigate and take them to court. Some people are still sitting in prison for more than seven years without being prosecuted. Sometimes this is the delay from their lawyers,” added Nderura.
Kunene region has a total of six holding cells in Kamanjab, Okangwati, Outjo, and Khorixas. Nderura also said that the Opuwo holding cell accommodates inmates from various police stations in the region, thus resulting in overcrowding.
“You have to know that the holding cell at Opuwo is a sitting cell to all police stations like the one at Sesfontein, Otjondeka, Werda, Omuramba and Omakange. All these people have to be transported to Opuwo because there are no holding cells at these police stations,” he said.
Moreover, Nderura mentioned that one of the main reasons for the overcrowdedness is the insufficient holding cells for minors as they can not be accommodated with adults.
He said this results in more inmates sharing one cell to make room for minors and female inmates. “We cannot put the minors amongst adults. Most of the time, when there are, for example, two minors or three, we have to reserve one cell for the female and one for male minor offenders,” noted Nderura.
Kunene will soon get new regional police to headquarters, according to Nderura, which will, in turn, help curb the overcrowdedness at the region’s holding cells.
When approached for comment, the executive director of the judiciary Bernhardt Kukuri said many actors play different roles and that their part as the judiciary is to work on the cases brought before them.
“Prosecutors and prosecutions make sure that the police investigate the cases; when they are ready for trial, they are brought before the magistrate to adjudicate on the matter and make a decision whether the person is guilty or not,” he said.
He said it is always tricky to pinpoint the leading cause of delay in the prosecution or the processing of justice in court.
“If a person comes without legal aid, the case is referred to a lawyer. Some have private lawyers, and they are not available that hour; a lot of contributing factors are adding to the developing story,” said Kukuri.
Kukuri stated that there needs to be further study to understand the number of cases, the delays and why they were postponed.
“It will be difficult for me to give you an answer out of the blue unless we validate on the ground and talk to the colleagues and the magistrate.”