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Walvis Bay Magistrate John Sindano has called on parliamentarians to do something about what he described as "shocking" conditions in police holding cells.

Apart from overcrowding, the magistrate says mentally disturbed detainees languish in such conditions for years while waiting to be admitted to the only psychiatric ward in Windhoek.

"At Narravile, people are crowded; some of them are sleeping on the floor because they don't have matrasses, but others don't. They are sleeping on the floor, and then you also have juveniles mixed with adults, as well as foreigers. There are times when the prosecution will come to us and say we oppose bail, and when we send the person to the holding cells, then people do not have a mattress to sleep on. Holding cells can keep people for up to three years. I have met people there for three years, waiting in holding cells."

The Magistrate revealed that parts of the harbour town have become home to drug dens, and that is contributing to people with mental problems ending up in holding cells.

Last year, police station commanders confirmed this problem and said mentally disturbed people end up in holding cells because their families do not know how to deal with them at home.

Just like the Magistrate, the commanders noted that inmates with mental problems wait long to be admitted into the psychiatric ward in Windhoek and not in the Erongo Region.

"A person is mentally disturbed. For those who are on the waiting list, a bed will only be available in 2029. Imagine that as the population grows, our planning has to be commensurate with that, and we will have to plan for that. Maybe decentralisation because our mandate is to send a person for 30 days, but now it is four years. Those are some of the challenges that we think need to be addressed because it is part of the constitutional mandate, and as you know, our country emphasises liberty, dignity, and equality." 

The Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs says the concerns have been noted.

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Renate Rengura