1. The world over, prisons are classified as high risk settings. Convicted prisoners and persons remanded are therefore among the most vulnerable to viral contagion. This is primarily due to congestion in prisons which makes it difficult to practice social distancing. Hygiene standards are also wanting in these environments which makes adherence to protocols recommended by the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MoHW); which require the frequent washing of hands with soap and or sanitizing a challenge, thereby exposing prisoners and those who work there to exponential risk of infection. This is also true for COVID-19. There is therefore need to proactively take steps to mitigate the outbreak of COVID-19 in our prisons as the potential to spread is infinitely higher.
2. The most significant and effective means of risk reduction in prisons is decongestion. BONELA therefore commends His Excellency, President Mokgweetsi Masisi and the Botswana Prison Service (BPS) for firstly limiting movement into prisons by suspending visits to prisoners and secondly, by decongesting prisons by granting Presidential Pardons to 149 convicted prisoners, third and lastly, by committing to testing the released prisoners before they rejoin society.
3. BONELA calls on Government – through the BPS and MoHW to put in place a triage system to assess individual risk including screening of BPS employees to mitigate the outbreak of the virus.
4. BONEA encourages the BPS to compliment this move by ensuring that allowance is made for prisoners to comply with the requisite hygiene protocols by availing clean water and soap, ensuring that surfaces are cleaned and disinfected at least once a day, and that there is access to information on precautionary measures, available services and status of the outbreak.
5. Furthermore, BONELA urges BPS to ready themselves for an outbreak by ensuring that they can provide adequate isolation for the infected, including training staff to mitigate risk and acquiring the appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to prevent transmission.