More efforts needed to unify inmates to the world outside prison during the pandemic

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By Perseverance Javangwe

Given the spread of Covid-19, several groups have shown to be vulnerable to infection, among them the prison population.

The national lockdown initiated to prevent the spread of covid-19 has had tremendous effects on inmates across the country. According to Reverand Wilson Femayi Executive Director of Prison Outreach Support, the covid-19 has cut family ties bearing the brunt of loneliness and neglecting to prisoners.

“…we haven’t been doing much as far to respond the COVID-19 situation. The situation is not usual for inmates because before the lockdown prisoners were visited by their relatives and they would bring some food stuff to complement their diet but now unfortunately is no longer the case. No relatives are allowed to visit which means there is no food to complement their diet.

“From a social point of view, this has really affected their social life, they feel disconnected from their beloved ones. With some losing touch in terms of communication with their families and wives. We are also going to see more stress related problems or issues evidenced due to this social disconnection.

“We are currently working to find a way to intervene as it is clear that there is need to complement in supplying of necessary item to be used by prisoners. Items like face masks, sanitizer, soap etc,” said Rev Femayi.

Overcrowding, poor hygiene conditions and difficult access to medical services make prisons an environment conducive to the spread of Covid-19, with direct impact on prisoners, prison officers and the rest of the society.

“I visited Chikurubi Maximum Prison recently and I observed that there is need for us to find out how we can improve in our intervention to respond towards their social needs. We thank God that when I visited the prison I was very happy to see all the precautions being adhered to and I believe this is being implemented to all prisons around Zimbabwe. There is no confirmed cases in any prison that we were informed by the authorities yet,” he said.

From the outset, it is inevitable that the impact of the covid-19 pandemic will place prisoners globally at great risk. Rev Femayi said the pandemic will negatively affect the prison service’s mandate of correctional institution.

“Currently this situation we are in came when people were not quite organized to quickly respond to its demands. We are at the moment working to adjust so as in all our programming issues of COVID is well look at to avoid any possibility of new infection. There they are screen before released from prison and we encourage the family members to ensure they are also safe for this disease.

The COVID-19 situation is definitely going to affect negatively especially for the Prison service in their mandate to be a correctional institution. Rehabilitation is possible when the Prison is open for the community and that instruction is no longer a possibility at the moment. Families’ reunion is affected. We are going to see more divorces happening Children becoming more vulnerable than ever,” he said.

Rev Femayi also gave recommendations on how Social Workers and other organisations can help prisons, “According to my observation of what’s on the ground there is a way Social workers can support Prisons during this lockdown period; 1)You need to organize yourself, come up with a structured programme which is in line with the COVID19 provisions, 2)You can work in partnership with an Organization already working in prisons and with prisoners, 3)Engage with the Prison authorities on institutional level, 4)You need to go there with one mind to serve humanity.

“Small group counseling will work best for them because what they want is someone from outside, who can give them a sight of how things are to ignite their hope of freedom. Raising support in items of the basic needs, they require, complementary food, soap, face masks, toiletries, socks, and fruits. Supplying of sanitizers for inmates to apply when interacting with each other.

“The Bible says, …remember those in Prison as if you are chained with them….my brothers and sisters here it’s not about remembering them that can change their lives while serving in prison but it is up to us Social workers, how much are we willing to be in chains with them. We are not righteous and we are all potential prisoners and we need to do anything we would expect to get from any one when we are in prison. That is my challenge to you. I don’t want to sound very spiritual but as social beings we have a part to play to help our brothers and sisters in Prison. Sadly some they are there undeservedly,” he said.

As Covid-19 cases continue to be recorded, identified vulnerabilities such as prisoners require specific focus.

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