A few weeks ago, I went to receive Morris Kaberia, who was being released from Kamiti Maximum Security Prison, Nairobi. Mr Kaberia’s conviction and sentence was overturned on appeal, meaning that he was wrongfully imprisoned.
The last time he enjoyed his freedom was 13 years ago and everything outside prison seemed to confuse him. Against the odds, he is a trained paralegal and a fourth year law student with the University of London through correspondence.
Mr Kaberia will reunite with his wife and a son who was three years old when he was jailed and is a Form Four candidate. He is raring to contribute to the society with the legal knowledge and skills he acquired in prison. But is it ready to receive him?
In our criminal justice system, the entry point is at the police and the end is, mistakenly, meant to be the prison. Once someone has been sent to prison, many assume that the criminal justice chain has come to an end. But there is more to it — reintegration and aftercare.
Reintegration involves resettling and incorporating people who have been released from penal institutions. The experience of being behind bars is phenomenal. We need to prepare the former inmates emotionally and psychologically before they are released. The rehabilitation and education programmes by Kenya Prisons Service are not enough for one to adjust to the freedom and demands and expectations of others. Reintegration and aftercare is critical and absence of it leads to issues such as reoffending, post-trauma frustration and post-incarceration syndrome.
Criminal justice systems struggle with reintegration as they focus more on rehabilitation than aftercare. Criminal justice reforms should go beyond the police and prisons, vetting judges and magistrates and building courts to strengthening of Probation and Aftercare Service, an agency under the State Department of Correctional Service, to implement one of its four professional services: Aftercare.
The story of Kelvin Mwikya highlights the failure to provide aftercare support. He was forced to sleep outside for several days after his release from prison before a well-wisher took him in. He later founded Philomen Foundation to aid former inmates and prepare them for reintegration into the society.
Some penal institutions have also resorted to ad hoc methods of preparing inmates who are about to leave prison. Lang’ata Women’s Prison, for example, has a discharge board comprising civil society, religious leaders and Friends of Lang’ata Prison that gives support such as jobs and business capital to ex-inmates.
But even after acquittal or serving a prison term, it is difficult for an ex-inmate to get a job because he cannot get a certificate of good conduct. This is double jeopardy, a second punishment for a mistake whose punishment one has served, and a human rights violation.
The Power of Mercy committee recommended that those who have served their sentence should receive a letter of recommendation. The Prisons Act provides that once one is released from jail that record should be erased, but it does not happen. People who have been in prison, therefore, bear the ex-inmate tag forever.
Mr Muthuri is legal aid manager, African Prisons Project. [email protected]