Though law could reduce prisoners’ plight, first address drug trafficking

Tuesday July 5 2016

The Attorney-General has expressed an intention to enter into prison transfer agreements with other states. This is a great step towards implementing the Prisoners Transfer Act assented to last October.

The law is meant to facilitate transfer of prisoners between Kenya and countries with which it has entered into agreements. Its purpose is to enable inmates in foreign prisons to serve out their sentences in the countries of their nationality or with which they have community ties.

This is certainly good news for people in prisons abroad as there is a likelihood of better social rehabilitation and integration in their home country.

However, there is a need to address the dynamics behind this emerging form of international crime. We are continuously losing young and energetic Kenyans to long jail terms and even death penalties abroad, mostly for drug-related offences.

Recently, I met Father John Wotherspoon, an Australian Catholic priest working as a missionary chaplain for prisons in Hong Kong. He told me that, sadly, many of the drug convicts in Hong Kong prisons are Africans — including more than 40 Kenyans, 100 Tanzanians, 20 Ugandans and dozens of Nigerians and South Africans.

DANGERS OF DRUG TRAFFICKING

The priest was in East Africa over the January holiday to visit the families of prisoners and pass their messages and letters. He also came to start a campaign to warn other Kenyans about the dangers of drug trafficking to Hong Kong and China.

Fr John Wotherspoon describes modern-day drug trafficking as the new ‘Slave Trade’. But, unlike the traditional slavery, it does not involve the actual sale of human labour for monetary consideration. However, desperate and naive people are being influenced to become drug traffickers.

The motivation of quick and easy drug money lures many unemployed Africans. The market is friendly and business thoroughly addictive. But the arm of the law in many developed states is quicker than the shortcuts. Nearly all of those in Hong Kong prisons face long jail terms while in China, which is known as one of the worst countries for one to be arrested for a drug-related offence, it’s the death penalty.

Some of the Kenyans’ letters were directed at the President. Their only hope was to see their families when the Transfer of Prisoners Act is implemented.

The intended prison transfer agreement may improve the fate of Kenyan nationals incarcerated abroad. Moreover, we need to permanently curb the illicit trade and especially create awareness to nationals travelling abroad.

LIZ GUANTAI, Nairobi