As part of measures to reduce prison populations in response to the coronavirus crisis, Kenya has released 4,800 prisoners in different parts of the country mainly through newly adopted Skype court sessions. The move is further aimed at preventing the spread of the deadly virus in prisons.
“We prioritized getting a lot of people out of prison, especially petty offenders. Those who are in prison for a short term and those who have been there for a long time but have just about six months and below to go,” Anne Amadi, the chief registrar of the judiciary in Kenya told CNN.
“As of Friday last week, we managed to decongest the prison by about 4800 inmates from different parts of the country. All our 39 high court stations have released people. Most of them, a good number, through Skype or Zoom,” she said.
Kenya, as of April 2, had 110 cases of coronavirus with three deaths. The government has stopped public meetings including religious gatherings and has suspended all international passenger flights. A nightly dusk-to-dawn curfew has also been ordered to limit the spread of coronavirus.
Right after the East African country recorded its first case of the virus, the Chief Justice directed that no prisoners will be presented to the court, and further asked the police to avoid arbitrary arrests. Workers within the judiciary were also asked to deal with only urgent cases and work from home.
“We agreed that we needed to generally downscale operations and work with minimal staff in each station… We realize that courts are one of the riskiest places to spread the virus because we deal with so many people and we have so many files handled there by so many people,” Amadi said.
Many court sessions are, at the moment, being held via a Skype video conferencing facility. In Mombasa high court, Kenyan Judge Eric Ogola delivered 23 judgments in his chambers through Skype on March 30.
“Today, Mombasa High Court Presiding Judge, Hon. Eric Ogola delivered 23 judgments through the use of Skype Conference to the inmates in Shimo La Tewa Prison,” Kenya Judiciary posted on Twitter.
On Monday, Malindi Law Courts also held a virtual session via Skype. The session saw 157 matters handled by the court, according to local reports.
Other courts in the country do hear matters at the customer care centers established at the courts to help prevent the spread of the virus.