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Prisoners released to prevent COVID-19 infections

by Sunday Express
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Nthatuoa Koeshe

THE Lesotho Correctional Service (LCS) says it recently released more than 100 prisoners from its Maseru facility as part of measures to decongest prisons to prevent the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

In a recent interview with the Sunday Express, LCS spokesperson Superintendent Neo Mopeli, said the release of the prisoners follows the LCS’ recent appeal to the magistrates’ courts to release some of the prisoners to ease congestion especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic which had infected close to 3 million people worldwide and caused about 200 000 deaths by yesterday.

Although Lesotho is yet to record a single infection, the country is nevertheless observing the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines to prevent the potential spread of the virus. This includes physical distancing and ensuring that prisons are not congested.

Supt Mopeli said those released were mostly prisoners who were jailed for relatively less serious offences as well as those who had failed to pay fines or bail. He refused how many prisoners the Maseru prison is supposed to hold and how many were still incarcerated saying this was a security issued which could not be discussed with the media. He said although only inmates at the Maseru facility had been released more prisoners could be released in other districts if the correctional facilities were also found to be overcrowded.  He said LCS was also looking into the possibility of releasing more prisoners under a general amnesty.

“Some prisoners have been released from the Maseru correctional facility and if it is found that other districts are facing the same challenge of overcrowding then some prisoners in those districts will have to be released,” Supt Mopeli said.

“The prisoners were released after a decision was made by the courts. The LCS is also looking into releasing other prisoners under a general amnesty but we have not yet started the process.”

The release of the prisoners comes after their relatives complained that they were no longer allowed to visit them and bring them food- a situation exposing some of the inmates to hunger. The LCS cannot afford to give them decent meals.

Some sources recently told the Sunday Express that inmates often complained of hunger, adding that on some days they were fed maize meal porridge (popularly known as pap) and beans or peas once a day.

Supt Mopeli denied the allegations, saying the inmates were fed breakfast, lunch and supper every day.

He however, would not say what the diet consisted of.

“These allegations are not true. Inmates are not getting one meal per day as your sources suggest. In fact, inmates are provided with breakfast, lunch and supper every day. It must also be understood that this is a correctional service facility and food menus will not be the same as those offered at different family settings. People may have their preferences and they may ask their families to bring them those kinds of foods during visits. But for now, visits are temporarily banned as part of the fight against COVID-19,” he said adding that inmates would have to eat whatever was on the prison menu.

 

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