Plans to Extend Police Holding Facilities

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By Berio Mbala WINDHOEK The Namibian Police have their hands full, having to deal with rising crime and overcrowded cells for trial-awaiting prisoners. Congestion in the police cells borders on criminality, according to one parliamentary committee whose members visited various cells on a fact-finding mission. The cells that are bursting at the seams – particularly in the city – are the main Windhoek Police Station, the Wanaheda Police Station and Katutura Police Station. The main cause for overcrowding is the increase in crime, where petty criminals are arrested and detained for minor offences such as trespassing, common assault, crimen injuria and shoplifting, among others. According to the report, “Windhoek Police Station is supposed to have a carrying capacity of 80 inmates but is flooded with 189 inmates; Wanaheda Police Station, which has a carrying capacity of 120 inmates, often houses in excess of 243 at any given time; the Katutura Police Station, with a carrying capacity of 80 inmates, has in excess of 106 in its cells”. Warrant Officer James Matengu said: “The main cause for overcrowding is the inability of inmates to pay bail and stand trial outside police cells.” If a suspect is granted bail and cannot afford to pay and stand trial, this forces the Namibian Police to keep the suspect in a cell until such time as the case comes up for trial. Sometimes a case is postponed again and again before it finally comes before a magistrate,” he said. The report also stated that another cause for overcrowding is the “high rate of arrests” because of increased crime. This leads to increased numbers of suspects being held in the cells. Another contributing factor is the “presence of illegal immigrants”. The report notes that “a lack of resources to extend the capacity of cells” is one of the causes for overcrowding at police cells in Windhoek, but “plans are in place to extend both Windhoek and Wanaheda Police Stations holding facilities in the 2008 – 2009 financial year.” Matengu noted that postponement of cases in courts of law due to various factors, mainly for further investigations, and sometimes non-availability of prosecuting officers, leads to overcrowding. He added that overcrowding in cells increases the possibility of prisoners escaping. According to Matengu, feeding the inmates in cells does not pose such an enormous problem because they mostly receive food from relatives during visiting hours.