CHALLENGING THE PUBLIC PERCEPTIONS OF PRISON

When you ask anyone what prison is, most would say that prison is where criminals are kept to pay for their crimes and keep the public safe. Prison to some people derives a negative connotation that most would prefer not to associate with. Most of these thoughts are derived from what they think and know.

Prisons are correctional institutions that engage in the rehabilitation and reintegration of inmates.

The capacity of inmates in our Kenyan prisons has surpassed the average number. The rate of crime rising has led to congestion in prison. This means prisons are strained in resources and facilities to adequately accommodate the inmates, which challenges their environmental conditions, making them prone to diseases. In line with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on Prison Health, correctional facilities collaborate with other prison stakeholders. They are constantly putting measures to attain the best standard of mental and physical health for the inmates.

The public should no longer perceive prisons as places of severe punishment and abuse. The Sentencing Policy Guidelines by the Kenyan Judiciary clearly states that the objectives of sentencing are for retribution, deterrence, rehabilitation, restorative justice, community protection and denunciation.

Virtual Training Program ; Busia Women’s Prison

Life in prison away from family, friends and everyday life activities may shatter the hopes and dreams of individuals. Adjusting to incarceration life is difficult for some to adapt and cope with, which challenges their mental wellness. Stigmatization has built the idea of people equating prisons as the worst life sentencing from personal experiences denoted by some ex-inmates. These perceptions, in turn, inflict fear in most Kenyans, making them refrain from any engagements or even talks about prisons.

In turn, some relatives, friends, and neighbours of ex-inmates deny any association with them to the public because of the fear of stigma they might endure. For instance, these stereotypes associated with prisons, for example, phone fraud, shape their opinions and views of prison.

Uniformed officers are mostly feared and avoided by the general public because of their work in upholding the safe custody and discipline of inmates. Prisons have come a long way in reforming inmate rehabilitation and the work ethics of the prison officers. The thought prisons being an inhumane environment is challenged by Prison Reforms started in the year 2003. This was to address the human rights issues turning prisons from punishment, torment, and humiliation institutions to correctional and rehabilitation institutions.

These assumed stereotypes and inadequate information about the services and duties in the correctional institutions tend to influence most Kenyans into having a negative image of prison. Prisons are, however, more than just the discussed features and stereotypes associated with them.

The Kenya Prison Service (KPS) is a department within the Ministry of Interior and Coordination of the National Government. As a uniformed and disciplined entity, KPS headed by the Commissioner General of Prisons (CGP) and established under the Prisons Act Cap 90 and Borstal Institutions Act Cap 92 Laws of Kenya. The service is committed to ensuring public safety and security and safe custody of inmates through facilitation rehabilitation of custodial sentenced offenders for community reintegration. The administration comprising of commissioners, directorates, senior superintendents, superintendent, public relations officers, telecommunication engineers, training coordinators, security officers, regional commanders, county prison commanders, officers in charge, deputies and assistants, departmental and section heads, junior officers, among others all contribute to the delivery of service.

According to the 2019 Kenya Population and Housing Census, Kenya has a population of 47.6 million with 114 incarceration rate per 100,000 inhabitants, according to prison insider. The prison population stands at 54,000, of whom 48% are pretrial detainees while the rest are convicted inmates. In December 2017, the Supreme Court of Kenya declared the mandatory death penalty unconstitutional.

With an increase in the rise of crime due to poverty, drug abuse, unemployment, among other issues, we need to increase awareness and have open discussions on how the community should contribute to improve and enhance rehabilitation and reintegration.

The overview of the Kenya criminal justice system classifies prisons as either closed, semi-closed, Borstal institutions or Youth Corrective Training Centers.  Closed prisons (also known as Main prisons are Maximum Security Prisons containing offenders serving long imprisonment or convicted of severe subversion or violent offences. Semi-closed prisons hold prisoners serving medium terms of imprisonment with less severe violations of subversion and violent nature. Borstal institutions are for juvenile offenders, while Youth Training and correctional centres are for non-convicted offenders.

The Core functions of the Kenya Prison Service by Prison Act Caps 90 and Borstal Acts Cap 92 of the Laws of Kenya is mandated to;

●        Contain and keep safe custody of inmates

●        Rehabilitate and reform offenders through training and counselling

●        Facilitate the administration of service

●        Control and train young offenders in Borstal institutions and Youth Corrective Training centres.

●        Provide facilities for children aged between four years and below accompanying their mothers in prison.

●        Provide basic human needs for prisoners.

●        Recruit, train and develop suitable personnel for the service.

●        Conduct research and monitor crime trends in the county.

Prisons perform these duties and keep society safe and partner with external stakeholders and partners to better and improve rehabilitation programs that educate the public on their contribution to reducing recidivism and understanding the nature of correctional institutions.

Baking in Session; Thika Women’s Prison

One such stakeholder is the NAFISIKA TRUST. We are committed to restoring, rebuilding and transforming the lives of the inmates.  We do this through training and capacity building focusing on life skills and personal development, counselling services, entrepreneurial skills, hard skills training and legal clinics, among other things. These skills and knowledge help inmates navigate life in prison, understand their abilities and strengths, and readjusting to life after prison. These help them refocus on life choices, family issues, employment, and even establish their own business to improve their livelihoods, making them socially and financially independent.

Written by Diana Ouma

Communications and Research Intern|| NAFISIKA TRUST

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