In honour of men and women determined to find a balance between fairness and punishment

Life in prison is nothing close to a vacation, neither is it a wearied lifestyle breather. Rather, it is akin to being stuck in a pervasive atmosphere; for most inmates at least. Life in prison can be forbidding, to the extent of blurring the nature of reality. Life in prison is not rosy!

But who cares? Aren’t inmates despicable to the society? Shouldn’t they be meted out with undue punishment for their crimes? After all, the society only has space for dignified individuals.

Well, maybe that’s a harsh perception towards those who have been deprived of their liberty. If you were to ask Nelson Mandela, a society is only as good as the way it treats inmates. Didn’t he spend 27 years in prison fighting for the course of human rights? Surely, his travails merit his sentiments that should ignite some sense of compassion in us.

For those of us who are in favor of a progressive society, we would easily concur with Mandela  on the claim that, “a nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.” Therefore, in our efforts to attain robust societies that are resilient to crime, we cannot disregard those in prisons. And for sure, we cannot void inmates of their inherent dignity as human beings.

The course of incarceration can be rugged. There are some of us who understand this reality, and there are many who care. Those who have stood up against the status quo to untie the stripes that bound inmate’s with misery. Those who strive wholeheartedly to improve prison conditions; these are the trailblazers, the refiners who seek to sieve out coarse criminal justice practices, and sculpt prisons into better institutions.

In regards to criminal justice practices, some of us have grown accustomed to inmates’ rehabilitation and reintegration; but few of us may actually know the weight these practices bear.  Just a few centuries ago, rehabilitation and reintegration practices were not a norm in correctional justice.

To walk you through the trajectory of prison reforms; acclaimed societies such as the Babylonian Empire in 1750 BC, ascribed to the Hammurabi code of laws that basically advocated for an eye for an eye and tit for tat punishment of offenders. The Assyrians on the other hand opted for mutilation offenders for serious crimes; and for most societies across the world, what currently may be considered non-capital crime was punishable by death! Rehabilitation was good as non-existent.

Then there arose men and women who were determined to find a balance between fairness and punishment; the likes of Italian Cesare Beccaria, who greatly influenced Western and global criminal law reforms by limiting on “judicial murder practices”. Closer home, contemporary icons such as Nelson Mandela informed the need to treat inmates with dignity; and here in Kenya, distinguished leaders such as Uncle Moody Awori instituted prison reforms that refined prison conditions for the better.  

In Kenya, prison reforms which were initiated in 2003, saw prisons transformed from punishment oriented institutions to correctional and rehabilitation facilities. As part of the remedy to the dire prison conditions, new inmates’ uniforms, mattresses and blankest were bought; not to forget the introduction of entertainment gadgets such as television sets that purposed to give inmates some sort of comfort.  To uphold inmates’ dignity, their diet was improved and for the first time, they were allowed to wear shoes and underpants; with female inmates being provided with sanitary towels.

The Kenya Prisons Service has also been adorned with acclaimed, selfless officers who have disrupted the correctional justice sphere by instituting impactful prison reforms. Oops, that is a borrowed word! Well, for those of us who are not aware, The Disruptor is a captivating memoir by the late SACG Wanini Kireri, a Kenya Prisons Service officer who was adorned with an altruistic impulse to improve inmates’ conditions.

Well, it would be unfair not to highlight endeavors each Kenya Prisons Service officer asserts towards upholding inmates’ welfare. It would also be disgraceful to fail to honor institutions and individuals who diligently partner with Kenya Prisons Service to rehabilitate and reintegrate inmates. However, a skim through The Disruptor can serve as an exemplar of the collective efforts that are being asserted towards upholding inmates’ welfare.

Little by little, the individual and collective efforts are engendering impactful prison reforms that gravitate towards revamping inmates’ wellness. Through premeditated rehabilitation, wellness and reintegration initiatives, prisons are being refined into worthwhile institutions. And consequently, the purpose of incarceration is being met by instituting humane and dignified measures that are employed for retribution, incapacitation, deterrence and rehabilitation of law-offenders.  

With the progress that has been achieved in prisons so far, we are at a loss of words to express our utmost gratitude to everyone who has channeled input into realizing transformative prison reforms. We are therefore left with nothing else to say but Gracious! Asanteni sana! Thank you so much for having an intrinsic urge to refine prisons into better institutions.

Written by Edinard Asiligwa

Communication and Research Associate|| NAFISIKA TRUST


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