Kwamchetsi Makokha: Jail authorities accuse themselves

Someone in the Prisons Service is looking for brownie points the wrong way. It would be wrong to fail to applaud the enthusiasm of prisons authorities in confiscating over 600 cell phones in the hands of inmates at Kamiti and Naivasha jails.

It would be equally remiss not to acknowledge the honest naivety of the officers who have told the public that the cellphones have been used in international scams running into billions of shillings. But it would also be negligent to gloss over the fact that even with prison reforms, inmates are not allowed to bring their personal mobile phones, SIM cards and airtime to jail.

In even the most developed 4and liberal penal systems where conjugal rights are permitted, telephone calls are by public landline, not cellphone. In our circumstances, not one cellphone was sneaked into prison. Not 10, and not 100. In the case of Naivasha, 3QO phones were found. They had been sneaked in using all sorts of ingenuities from shoe soles to soap cakes.

A similar number was trafficked into Kamiti. Prison literature, from Ngugi wa Thiong'o's Detained, John Kiriamiti's My Life in Prison to Saga McOdongo's Deadly Money Maker all point to rigorous dehumanisig searches before one is admitted into the prison community. It is a system that only allows in what it wants to allow in.

Which is the more puzzling that prison authorities should be making "discoveries" of cellphones - clearly a form of high value contraband.

Prison officers are a neglected lot. Their pay ranks down there with the lowest of the low. Yet they deal with masterminds of crime. Perhaps that is temptation for them to engage in a little "business" on the side. Perhaps it also excuses their sale of privileges to inmates who can pay, but no way should be used a reason for abetting crime through negligence or acts of commission.

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