Jails teeming with young offenders
Even as the government seeks to implement the “Big Four Agenda” and other long-term development goals for the country such as Vision 2030, a number of individuals and organisations have raised concerns over the growing population of young Kenyans correctional centres.
Among the main objectives of the Jubilee government is to create 1.3 million manufacturing jobs and achieve universal healthcare by 2022. Others are security and affordable housing.
This means an average of 706 manufacturing jobs would have to be created daily. But can such a goal be realised with a majority of Kenyans in prison being young?
Susan Nyansora and Christine Anyango are 30 and 20 years old respectively. The two women are at Homa Bay prison over the killing of their husbands.
While Nyansora is serving her two-and-half-year prison sentence for manslaughter, Ms Anyango is in remand on a murder charge.
When bureaucrats from the Judiciary and the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions visited Homa Bay prison recently, the two women requested that their cases be reviewed, citing their ages and the young children who they said should be at home.
Ms Anyango told DN2 that she would like to be granted a free bond to enable her handle the case out of prison “because I am poor and cannot afford legal fees, a lawyer or paying bond”.
“I have asked the DPP to allow me handle the case while at home. Apart from being poor, I am young and need to contribute to building our country,” the young mother told the team.
Her four-month-old child was born in prison and Ms Anyango held her tight as she narrated her “painful” ordeal.
Ms Anyango is among the thousands of young people in Kenyan prison facing countless charges, some serious while others classified as petty.
Converted to cases
Some individuals and rights organisations believe holding such a group in detention without allowing them to engage in economic activities does the country harm.
The Judiciary and the office of the DPP have raised concerns over the matter.
The DPP’s office initiated a programme at Nairobi Remand Prison and 10 other correctional centres countrywide in January to enhance access to justice.
More than 2,000 inmates were engaged.
According to the DPP, a majority of those in the pilot scheme are aged 18 to 34.
Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Christine Nanjala says the productivity of such a young population is needed for the country to realise its socio-economic and other goals.
“The office of the DPP wants to ascertain why a majority of those in prison, remand and police cells are young,” Ms Nanjala told the DN2 during the team’s visit to Homa Bay Prison.
Ms Nanjala also admitted that many inmates have little or no knowledge about the country’s criminal justice system.
Most of the inmates complained of very high bond terms set by magistrates and judges.
“Such terms stop those facing charges, even petty ones, from getting a fair hearing. A vast majority of them cannot afford the bond,” she said.
“We also found out that about 86 per cent of the inmates do not have legal representation and this poses a very serious challenge to their appeals.”
According to the Criminal Justice System Audit report published in 2017, more than four million people are arrested and detained every two years.
Thirty-two per cent of these arrests are converted to court cases, the report adds. However, about 70 per cent of these charges are related to minor offences.
The Community Service Orders Act was enacted by the National Assembly in 1998 to address various challenges in Kenyan prisons, especially congestion.
The population in the penal institutions currently stands at 55,000, against a capacity of 32,000.
More than 5,000 petty offenders left jail by the end of last month to engage in community work as part of the government efforts to decongest prisons.
High Court judge Luka Kimaru, who is also the national chairman of the Community Service Orders, said in April that 5,787 offenders were to be released from prisons between that month and May.
“These are basically petty offenders serving sentences of three years and below or who were sentenced to a longer periods but have a sentence of three years or less remaining,” Justice Kimaru said.
The exercise was undertaken by Community Service Orders, probation and aftercare service officials, as well as those from the prisons and the Judiciary.
The highest number of petty offenders were released from prisons in Nairobi (624), Uasin Gishu (429), Mombasa (336), Kiambu (288), Nakuru (282), Machakos (269), Murang’a (204), Kisumu (204) and 199 from Kisii, Bomet and Trans Nzoia counties.
The counties which the lowest number of petty offenders freed include Migori (49), Siaya (45), Tana River (44), Vihiga (40), Garissa (40) and Marsabit (26).
Once released, they are expected to return to their homes and communities.
The programme also seeks to ensure family unity, according to Justice Kimaru.
It is also meant to encourage integration and reconciliation with the offended people or communities.
The scheme, according to the Judiciary, has greatly reduced the amount of resources and time the government would have spent on the petty offenders had they been sent to prison.
Chief Justice David Maraga has in the past raised concerns about the rising numbers of people being remanded for petty offences.
Justice Maraga said compared to the cases successfully prosecuted, the number is alarming. He spoke during the launch of the Criminal Justice Committee at Supreme Court in Nairobi.
Justice Maraga said there is need to urgently correct some of embarrassing features of the country’s justice system.He added that for a long time, actors in the justice chain including the Judiciary, the police service, prosecution, probation and children’s department, have had structural and systematic challenges that should be streamlined quickly.
The CJ added that the Judiciary is determined to clear pending criminal appeals, which could save the taxpayer millions of shillings that the government spends on prisons.
Justice Maraga said 75 per cent of those sent to prison are poor people aged 18 to 35. Many of them are in custody simply for lacking a business licence or being found drunk.
Kenyan prisons have a capacity of 22,000 inmates but accommodate more than 53,000.
The 2017 criminal justice system report showed that a vast majority of those in detention centres are from poor backgrounds.
The audit also faulted the police for carrying out shoddy investigations, saying some of the cases leading to prison terms should not have been taken to court.
It also questioned why a majority of young people facing charges end up in prison when there are many other ways of helping them rebuild their lives.
“It is worrying when most of those arrested, charged and sent to prison are poor. The saddest part of it is that the majority of those in jail or remand are between 18 and 35,” Justice Maraga said.
The audit was commissioned by the National Council on the Administration of Justice.It analysed the state of affairs of the police, the courts and prisons when dealing with criminal offences.
According to the report, suspects with money are likely to bribe their way to freedom when arrested.
Many do not end up in court or being sent to jail.
“Widely varying rates of conversion of arrests into charges suggest a high degree of discretion being exercised by police officers, in both the initial arrest and release,” the report said.
“This shows that many Kenyans cannot expect the same treatment.”
Justice Maraga also pointed an accusing finger at the police and public prosecutors for their investigations, saying some cases should never end up in court.
The Chief Justice noted that 45 per cent of convictions have been overturned or the sentences reduced on appeal.
The president of the Supreme Court also questioned why many people arrested do not end up being charged in court.
He added that despite records at police stations showing the arrests, there is no documentation on the circumstances under which those arrested are set free.
Even more horrifying, the report said, petty offenders are likely to be jailed, unlike more serious offences where suspects are either acquitted, matters resolved outside court or they successfully appeal against the sentences.
The audit showed that 70 per cent of cases processed through the justice system are offences related to lack of business permits, being drunk and disorderly and creating disturbance, which can be classified as economically or socially petty.
The Kenya Prison Service has 108 prisons, out of which 18 are for women.
While three others are for juvenile male offenders, two are borstal institutions and one is a youth corrective training centre, popularly known as YCTC.
Statistics released in 2010 indicated that the inmate population in the country was about 55,800, against an established capacity of 18,600.
In 2016, the office of the office of the DPP said the inmate population has reduced to 53,841, out of which 46 per cent were remandees.
Homa Bay GK Prison Commander Labantine Macoyamo says many inmates who have appealed their convictions cannot get in touch with their lawyers, making it difficult for their cases to be heard promptly.
“One of the biggest problems facing prisoners is lawyers who do not turn up in court. The cases are postponed many times,” Mr Macoyamo said.
Lang’ata beauty queen sent to the gallows for killing her boyfriend.
When Ruth Kamande stood for her sentencing on Thursday over the murder of her boyfriend, her beauty and age could have been the attention of many Kenyans, rather than the crime she committed.
Kamande sat in the dock at Milimani Law Courts, Nairobi and listened pensively as the judge sent her to the gallows.
In 2015, the then 21-year-old Kamande stabbed Farid Mohamed during a quarrel at his Buru Buru house.
She told the court that she had been in a relationship with Farid for several years, and that in September 2015, they fought over his HIV status.
According to Kamande, he deliberately attempted to infect her with HIV. The fight turned violent and she stabbed Farid 25 times.
Since her arrest in 2015, Kamande has been in the limelight, perhaps because of her beauty and the crime she committed.
She won the Ms Lang’ata Women’s Prison title in 2016.
Kamande is articulate, going by her defence during the much-publicised trial.
To many Kenyans, Kamande just does not fit the profile of what they imagine a killer should look like.
That is not surprising because statistics shows that most killers are men from disadvantaged backgrounds, with little or no education and who are likely to have been involved in other crimes.
According to a 2014 study by the National Crime Research Centre, while the rate of violence against women has remained generally the same for many decades, the rate of violence against men by women is going up.
Human rights group Amnesty International wants Kenyan officials to commute Kamande’s death sentence.
The organisation says no single crime deserves a capital punishment.
“We are concerned that Kenya continues to use this cruel, inhumane and outdated mode of punishment,” Amnesty International Kenya Executive Director Irungu Houghton said in a statement on Friday.
“This is a serious blow to the country’s progressive record in commuting death sentences to terms of imprisonment.”
He added that there is no credible evidence that the death penalty deters crime any better than other lawful punishments and asked the Judiciary to call for Kamande’s rehabilitation instead.
Kamande received the sentence in a packed Nairobi court three years after she committed the crime.
The court heard that Kamande stabbed Mohamed 25 times, not in quick succession but in intervals, leading him to bleed to death.
Her sentencing excited a section of Kenyans on social media, some of who felt she deserves the hangman’s noose for the nature of her crime, while others said she should be pardoned.
They mostly based their reasons on Kamande’s looks.
Death sentence in Kenya is essentially in name only, as the last execution was conducted in 1987 when Air Force senior privates Hezekiah Ochuka, Pancras Oteyo Okumu and two others found guilty of planning the aborted 1982 coup against the government of President Daniel arap Moi were executed at Kamiti Maximum Security Prison.
The country does not have an active hangman.
The last one, Kirugumi wa Wanjiku, who served in Kamiti, died of pneumonia in the Aberdares in 2009. Kirugumi wa Wanjiku was 86 at the time of his death.
The Kenyan Constitution still allows capital punishment, which has been practised for more than 70 years. There are more than 4,500 death row convicts in Kenya.
Five main crimes warrant capital punishment. They are murder, treason, oath-taking for crimes by proscribed criminal outfits, robbery with violence and attempted robbery with violence.