The Namibian Prison Service (NPS) has ruled out distributing condoms and offering conjugal rights to prisoners despite allegations of sexual abuse and activity among inmates.
Commissioner Sam Shalulange of the NPS said condoms cannot be issued to inmates as long as sodomy remains a crime in Namibia.
“Issuing condoms to inmates will thus seem to be promoting sodomy in correctional facilities.” Shalulange’s justification for ruling out the distribution of condoms to prisoners to prevent the spread of HIV is that since consensual sodomy is illegal, “providing condoms might make prison officials accessories to crime.”
About cases of sexual abuse in the prison system, Shalulange said despite their incarceration, “Inmates have the same right and receive the same services just like that offered to members of the public in terms of victimisation. Crimes against them are treated, investigated and prosecuted just the same. The remedies will therefore be determined by a court of law depending on the merits of the case.”
Legal practitioner, Uno Katjipuka-Sibolile, said “sexual abuse in prison systems is very hard to establish because inmates do not report these type of incidents for a variety of reasons,” adding that foremost they do not want to be seen as snitches.
“It is not only potential sexual violence occurring in prison that would give rise to health concerns that would be addressed by the distribution of condoms, what you have in prison are for the most part healthy adults whose sexual needs do not suddenly go away now that they are in prison… so while everyone “knows” no one knows,” she said.
In terms of conjugal rights in the Namibian prison systems, Katjipuka said , “ it depends on one’s fundamental approach or philosophy to the whole prison situation.”
“Do we imprison human beings with the hopes of rehabilitating them to one day reenter society, in which case we would want to reinforce their humanity as much as possible ,while on the inside, including encouraging their relationships to family and loved ones, including possibly conjugal visits,” she said.
Ombudsman John Walters said his office has previously advocated for the distribution of condoms to prisoners before.
“It’s a matter of choice. So I agree and I want to see that we distribute condoms in our places of detention and I believe our system is vigilant of sexual abuse of inmates, the inmates know their rights and have the right to complain,” he said.
“Unfortunately it came out from the National Assembly. Thus if we allow them then we will encourage them to commit an offence and we will be accomplices to the sodomy, a common law offence.”
However, in term of conjugal rights, Walter said once someone has committed an offence and has been convicted and sent to a custodial sentence, the individual immediately forfeits some of their rights.
“Firstly your human right of movement, your liberty and family because otherwise you cannot come out and join your family on certain occasions, that you lost immediately when you are sent to jail,” said Walters.
He added that , “conjugal rights among married couples is definitely a matter that must be explored,” adding that the government should meet prisoners halfway in meeting those rights as they are still humans who have human needs and desires.
According to Friday’s figures from the NPS, there are 4 209 prisoners in the Namibia correctional system, 130 females and 4 070 males.