November 17, 2020

COVID-19 Cases Reach Over 160 in Jails Yet Public Visits are Banned

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Women inmates dance at new year party inside Mageragere prison at end of 2019. Everyone with a family member in jail is worried about their love one there

There is growing public concern over the situation in prisons as cases of COVID-19 infections continue to increase – with people worried it could be their love one infected.

Since early March when it became clear that the virus was airborne, visits to all jails were banned. Actually, access to jails was stopped even before the first national lockdown on March 15.

Since then, apart from defence lawyers, who also have to have special permission, nobody else is allowed in the jails.

Even inmates who need special meals, their families were only been allowed to send money to a designated address and the money would be handed to the inmate.

In the last three weeks as of this Monday, COVID-19 cases have risen to 161 in the jail system.

Head of the Rwanda Correctional Service (RCS), CGP George Rwigamba himself has no idea how the virus entered his facilities – all housing about 70,000 inmates.

Since the arrival of the virus in Rwanda, people have continued to be arrested and sent to the jails. However, RCS says all are tested before admitted into the facilities.

There have also been high profile case whose suspects have been brought to courts for physical hearings. Even then, RCS defended itself that no public is allowed in the courts leaving only the inmate, prosecution, lawyers, the judges, and journalists in some cases.

A director of the biggest jail, Mageragere was nearly jailed himself when the authorities found out he had given access to family of Robert Nyamvumba, a former official with the infrastructure ministry. The prison director was later cleared, but the incident gave hint to public that indeed no one is allowed at the jails.

However, social media as usual has maintained its role as platform where all sorts of theories are advanced. Some pointing out that perhaps just as the so called “big fish” have stolen public money indiscriminately without being held accountable, it could be possible they are the ones accessing the jails to visit the families or contacts.

Just this Monday, out of the 36 COVID-19 cases identified, 31 were from Mageragere prison, a maximum security facility.

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