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.

The Star (Kenya) - - Big Read / Correctional Centres - BY JOSEPH NDUNDA @MuthuiN­dunda

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.

/ NOBERT AL­LAN

In­mates at Shimo la Tewa pri­son queue to vote dur­ing the ref­er­en­dum ex­er­cise.

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