Our prisons facilities are grossly over-stretched. Take Industrial Area prison, built to cater for just 1,000 inmates. It now houses over 3,000.
The government should take bold steps to reform and decongest prisons.
About 75 per cent of prisoners are between 18 and 35 years, the majority being petty offenders. This is a pointer to a bigger problem.
A recent study by the National Council on Administration of Justice shows that more than half of the prisoners are less than 25 years old. Kenya’s 120 prisons have about 90,000 prisoners, 60 per cent of them serving terms of between one month and two years. Another 133,000 are in prison awaiting the conclusion of their cases, pushing the in-mates population to about 223,000.
To decongest prisons, the Prosecution could use plea bargaining to drop petty cases and exempt petty offenders from the trial process. This would also reduce the spread of diseases such as tuberculosis and HIV.
Regrettably, court cases can drag on for years, not forgetting that there are huge backlogs of cases waiting to be dispensed. The Judiciary should put more effort in eliminating these delays.
Other challenges facing prisons include under-funding, inadequate personnel and absence of modern technological aids.
The public expects fairness, impartiality and speed in the dispensation of court cases. On its part, the public must refrain from labelling inmates, hence making it hard for ex-offenders to get jobs and fit back in society.
Alternatives to imprisonment include parole, community service, suspended sentences and probation.
The courts, especially subordinate ones, are unfair to poor people. This precipitates pre-trial detention which mainly affects the poor who cannot afford to hire lawyer to facilitate pre-trial release.
Human rights organisations, the Law Society of Kenya and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution should hire lawyers to represent poor inmates with pending cases.
RAPHAEL OBONYO, via email
The hopes of many prisoners were dashed this month when none of them got a presidential pardon to join their families for Christmas, as is the custom.
Earlier this year, the President pardoned 14 inmates, a number of whom reverted to crime after their release.
Direct admission of ex-prisoners to society without cope-up strategies is not helpful.
Halfway homes for ex-prisoners exist in countries like The Netherlands. The homes give ex-convicts freedom but with restrictions. The government should build such centres for inmates.
The other group that needs restitution centres are street families, which are growing rapidly. The greatness of any nation depends on how it treats its weakest members.
WEKESA ERICK, via email