By Radha Dhar
[su_pullquote]According to the Institute for Criminal Policy Research, there are 5.1 million people in prisons all around the globe right now. Kenyan prisoners make up around 57,000 of them.[/su_pullquote]
According to the Institute for Criminal Policy Research, there are 5.1 million people in prisons all around the globe right now. Kenyan prisoners make up around 57,000 of them. This puts the Kenyan prisons at more than double their total capacity—202%, to be exact. In fact, Kenya falls within the top 25 countries in the world with overcrowded prisons by capacity. What should a country with so many criminals all caged together in tight prison cell facilities do?
Well, the good news is, the answer is not nearly as abysmal as the occupancy rate. Quite the contrary, Kenya’s prison strategy may surprise you, and even inspire other countries to replicate its exemplary prisoner reformation model.
The establishment of a structure
Prison systems were first introduced in Kenya by the British East Africa colonisers with the enactment of the East Africa Prisons Regulations in April 1902. Post-independence from the British, Kenya amended its structure to eventually establish The Kenya Prisons Service (KPS) on 1 April 1911. At the time, the inmate population was only 6,559, with a total staff of 319. Since then, the population has grown eight-fold.
According to a governmental report put out by The Kenyan Prisons Organization, there are currently about 111 penal institutions, including youth corrective training centres and girls’ correctional facilities. These institutions are under the oversight of regional commanders who report to the Commissioner General of Prisons, based in the division’s headquarters in Nairobi.Kenyan prisoners given legal training to represent themselves in court | Photo Courtesy: ABC
The system caters to youth and females individually. Further, the official mandate of the KPS lists “rehabilitation and reformation of prisoners” as its prioritised function, second only to facilitating secure containment of the inmates.
Forced to the prison cells
Kenya is classified as a developing nation, with almost half of its population of 44 million falling below the poverty line, evidenced by their extremely low standard of living. Women, youth, and foreign nationals account for only about 5% of inmates. The majority demographic is middle-aged male nationals from rural areas. Poor quality of life as a result of humanitarian issues, corruption, drought, disease, and substandard literacy rates prompts people into desperate acts of crime and violence to make ends meet.
A Kenyan National Police Service memo quantified 74,500 incidents of crime in the last year. A CIA report confirmed that a quarter of the population did not even meet basic literacy criteria, let alone achieve higher education standards. However, this provided the stimulus for the government to put a forward-thinking reformation system into play to turn the tables.
Knowledge will set you free
[su_pullquote align=”right”]Every prison features a permanent billboard informing the prisoners of their rights, while guards even receive spiritual therapy for stress management.[/su_pullquote]
KPS launched a handbook on Human Rights that aims at developing a culture of respect for human rights for prison staff and other agencies in the justice sector. Every prison features a permanent billboard informing the prisoners of their rights, while guards even receive spiritual therapy for stress management. This progressive initiative has improved the overall well-being of the prison community. It has bolstered the relationship between staff and inmates and created an aura conducive to rehabilitation.
The prison initiatives involve teaching prison inmates the basics of reading and writing and has helped them identify their rights. This helps them to be an asset to the larger community.
Along with teaching them their rights, they are educated in law and how it impacts them. This empowers them to even represent themselves in court if the situation demands it.
The head prison officer of Kenya’s Kamiti Maximum Security Prison affirmed that a majority of those behind bars are usually there because they did not know how to defend themselves or did not know the clauses of the constantly changing district laws. It is easy to get trapped in a system when you do not know its confines and limitations.
Towards a brighter future
Rather than some systems where jailers are primarily used as cheap labour, Kenya sees the containment period as an opportunity to break the cycle of poverty and crime through the power of knowledge and enforcement of dignity and civil rights.
This fosters a cycle of self-sustaining improvement, as many teachers are former prisoners, while others choose to stand in as peer advocates later on. As a result, many prisoners are pardoned for petty crimes, upon evidence of their progression.
Most recently, towards the end of 2016, courts were able to justify freeing as many as 7,000 inmates charged with minor offences after careful consideration of their records in KPS. This frees up the much-needed space in the overpopulated jailing facilities while alleviating the cycle of crime going forward.
The KPS’s motto states: “Kurekebisha na haki,” meaning, “Rehabilitation and Justice”. True reform and societal improvement can happen only when the two are placed hand-in-hand and treated with equal importance.
Featured Image Credits: AFCM
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