BREAKING THE CYCLE OF CRIMIE PRISONERS AND REHABILITATION
When community support is not present for ex-convicts, they are likely to go back to other means to sustain themselves.
Leaving the confines of the intimidating and restrictive walls of prison is the dream of every prisoner.
But the scorn, ridicule, discrimination and isolation by the society that they sometimes encounter after their release from makes their free life full of misery.
This is the major cause for the repeat offenses by the ex-convicts who get reformed while in correctional centres. Sometimes the frustrations push them to the extreme, often pushing them back to crime.
John Kilonzo Musyoka, alias Karunyu killed 12 relatives in his Nyanyaa home in Mwingi Central on the night of July 4, 2013.
Karunyu had recently been released from jail hoping to pick up the pieces and move on. Only to find that his family had sold his ancestral land thinking that he would remain behind bars for the rest of his life. Karunyu had been jailed for robbery with violence. He was re-arrested on January 11 this year.
The ex-convict who was held at Kamiti Maximum Prison found his father’s share of land had been sold by relatives. He returned to Nairobi where he mobilised a gang of six who raided the village killing the 12, mainly his relatives.
Sadly, ex-convicts are usually branded thieves even if they were not jailed for stealing in the first place.
Society holds unsubstantiated belief that anyone who has been in jail is a hardened criminal and is likely to harm those around them. Some have even been ostracised for having been a ‘guest of the state’.
An example is Geoffrey Njoroge Matheri alias Fongo. He had his freedom from the gallows almost end in tragedy after he was attacked by villagers immediately he was set free after more than seven years in jail.
Matheri was admitted to Naivasha Sub-County Referral Hospital in Nakuru with serious injuries and said that he preferred going back to jail.
Many of the ex-convicts grapple with rejection when seeking employment. “Unfair” denial of job opportunities, ungrounded suspicion at the work place has been the order of day for ex-prisoners seeking a livelihood and those lucky enought to have landed a job. The discrimination and suspicion is rife in the private as well as public sector .
Despite the fact that the government spends hundreds of millions of shillings to offer various skills to prisoners, getting jobs for them remains an uphill task due to their criminal convictions.
Kenya Prisons Service offers primary and secondary education to inmates. Assistant Commissioner General of Prisons David Macharia said they are also offered tertiary education and prisoners obtain certificates on various courses at the correctional centres while serving their jail terms.
The KPS has some of the best training facilities for vocational training and tertiary education where it offers technical skills and academic courses. Some of the courses offered include carpentry and joinery, building and construction, dressmaking and embroidery, metal work and welding among others.
The KPS also offers academic courses including farming and livestock keeping, counseling, accounting, veterinary medicine and law.
However, a proposal on handling reformed criminals by the Power of Mercy Advisory Committee could see the ex-state guests get recommendations to show that they petitioned the committee, were vetted and found to have been sufficiently rehabilitated.
“This recommendation will be in the form of a letter to tell the prospective employer that although the person has been convicted, he petitioned the President and was pardoned after vetting found him to have reformed,” Pomac CEO Michael Kagika said.
“It will be telling the potential employer that this is a person we would vouch for to be hired to help them hasten integration back into the society after pardon.”
Pomac vice chairman Regina Boisabi said the committee
has initiated a discussion with stakeholders to have ex-convicts assisted to start lives afresh. She said that among those expected to benefit from the proposals by Pomac are 196 convicts pardoned by the President. They were serving capital punishments and so far none of them have been linked to any criminal act.
Macharia supported the proposal to have the reformed ex-prisoners given clearance certificates to help them get gainful employment after leaving jails.
Currently, anyone who has been convicted of a criminal offense can’t be issued with a certificate of good conduct upon leaving correctional centres. A person with a pending criminal case also does not qualify for the crucial document until acquitted by the courts.
Some ex-prisoners must be under the supervision of security agencies after release from jail.
“We want the Attorney General to be granted powers to recall and review the criminal records kept by security organs and order removal of reformed ex-convicts from the records of criminals,” Boisabi said.
Boisabi said one of the capital offenders released on presidential pardon has been proposed by the residents for an MCA seat in Kisii County despite the fact that anyone who has been jailed for more than six months can not seek an elective seat.
Kenya National Commission on Human Rights CEO Patricia Nyaundi said there should be a lot of public awareness campaigns to help people understand that once someone has served a jail term, they have paid for their crimes and we need to open doors for them and support them to rebuild their lives.
“We say punishment retributive especially custodial ones. Most of them (ex-prisoners) come out of prisons with nothing and depend of the community around them to help them re-establish their lives. When that support is not present, they are likely to go back to other means to sustain themselves,” Nyaundi said.
But she said the employer should not be put in a situation where they hire then the person commits the offence they would have prevented.
“If someone was jailed for molesting a minor, he should not be hired as a primary school teacher or given a job where they are taking care of children because there is likelihood of recurrence and such children are at risk. But they can work in a factory where their past would not cast any risk element to those they are working with,” explained Nyaudi.
“The price of committing crime is losing the vital currency of human transaction which is trust. Trust between the ex-prisoners and the society must be cultivated and the ex-convicts must approach this with a sense of awareness and invest in building trusts.”
She said the society should not put road blocks on the paths of exprisoners who are ready to rebuild their lives.
Nyaundi urged the government to invest more resources in rehabilitation of the offenders by strengthening the education system in correctional centres instead of confinement. She said if prisoners left jails with competitive skills, they would find it easy to compete in the job market.
The CEO said most of the training programs in prisons are run by volunteers.
She said the government should first improve the welfare of prison warders and their working conditions for them to be able to transform the lives of the people they are given.
“If the prison warders are going to be the champions of human rights of prisoners, they must also be taken care of and not live in deplorable structures. They must live in decent houses and work under favourable terms,” Nyaudi said.
Federation of Kenya Employers CEO Jacqueline Mugo said the prisoners should not be discriminated and judged on their past.
She said everyone deserves a second chance and ex-prisoners should not be isolated and discriminated.
“But it depends on the nature of the offence committed. If it is an offence for which someone served a custodial sentence then this would be a fixed blight for a candidate who would always have a criminal record which would make it hard for the job seeker to secure employment especially in sensitive sectors such as security, financial institutions among others,” she said.
Such jobs include those with disciplined services like the Kenya Defense Forces, National Police Service, Kenya Prisons Services, Kenya Wildlife and Kenya Forestry services who require applicants to have a police clearance form and no pending criminal case(s) in court. Private security firms and financial institutions also fall in this category
An ex-prisoner Philip Ouma (not real name) said the big problem is that people believe that the experiences subjected to prisoners in jails makes them inhumane.
“People around us who know we have been jailed always feel insecure. There is a belief that we are dangerous people even if we walk with bibles,” he said.
“I agree prisons are not boarding institutions and there are unsavoury things in jails. But they have improved and the inhumane conditions that made even small time offenders hardcore criminals have reduced significantly. People should stop seeing all of us as thieves and violent rogues,” said the man who was recently freed from Kamiti.
“Even if you were jailed for a traffic offense, people will see you as a thief and a violent person and isolate you.”
Assistant Commissioner David Macharia said the prisons should be cleared to do “what the law says” or the death sentence be abolished. The law says convicts of some capital offenses should be killed. Macharia said death row convicts have been wallowing in prison for decades causing undue congestion in correctional facilities. He said life imprisonment should be defined to state how long a prisoner handed the sentence should stay behind bars.
“In some countries, life imprisonment has been set with paroles at either 20, 25 or 30 years. However, here in Kenya, life imprisonment remains indefinite and convicts stay in prisons with their fate uncertain. This wait causes undue mental anguish and suffering, trauma and anxiety.” Macharia said.
Current laws do not also permit prisoners on the death row to be gainfully or productively utilised by the prison authorities, which is among the reasons that have been cited for prison indiscipline and insecurity. They are held in isolation.
Community Service Order Case Committee chairman Justice Luka Kimaru said that during his visits to various prisons, death row convicts say they want to die.
“But death can’t execute the death sentence. That is a prerogative of the President. Constitutional and Criminal law experts from the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights Commission, have also said the death sentence is unconstitutional.
A three judge bench comprising of Judges Luka Kimaru, Stella Mutuku and Jessie Lessit declared the procedures provided for while sentencing capital offenders, unconstitutional. The judges ruled that sections of the penal code do not meet the constitutional threshold of setting out precise and distinct differentiating degrees of aggravation of the offence of robbery and attempted robbery to adequately answer to charges as well as prepare a defence.
“Death sentence is not a cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. However, it just cannot be meted to any person convicted of a capital offence,” the judges ruled on September 15.
This means, in their understanding, that not all convicts of offenses punishable by death should be handed the death sentence. But the three said the convicts must be given an opportunity for mitigation before the court pronounces itself on the matter or issues the judgement. The convicts might get lesser punishments.
“If the court does not receive and consider mitigating factors and other statutory pre-sentencing requirements, it is not mandatory for the courts to pass a death sentence against persons charged with capital offenses,” they ruled.
Correctional services Principal Secretary Micah Powon said the government is working on decongestion plans. Among the mechanisms being considered include insisting on a noncustodial sentences for lesser offenses committed by first time offenders.
Another method used is lenient bail terms to accused persons to allow them afford to stand trial while outside remand. Powon said payment of fines in installment is also being considered as an possible mechanism to allow those found guilty and fined, to pay the fines without necessarily having to stay in jails because of being unable to raise them upfront.
Its unfortunate that some inmates are languishing in jail becuase they were unable to pay fines as low as Sh1000.
Inmates at Shimo la Tewa prison queue to vote during the referendum exercise.