Prison paralegals give fellow inmates shot at freedom
Empower inmatesBut now hundreds of inmates across the country are being empowered to seek redress in instances they feel justice was not served. Prison paralegals like Chute help inmates to draft legal documents such as appeals, protest delays in their cases, or apply for bail. The paralegals are also the people the inmates approach if they need an interpretation of the courts’ decisions. They are also trusted to judge the success of appeals. “He (inmate) knows he didn’t commit the crime but because he couldn’t defend himself to the level required by the courts, he is where he is (prison). He takes the Judiciary as an enemy,” Chute said. High Court Judge Teresia Matheka said that besides increasing the chances of an innocent person being convicted, the lack of legal representation also made the work of judicial officers difficult. “Not everybody understands the legal processes. Some of them are very simple but until someone tells you what they are, you will not know. And when you appear in court and you do not know the simplest things about how to respond, that also makes work difficult for the officers dealing with the matter,” Justice Matheka said. For instance, a suspect can plead guilty to an offence, but then defend themselves during mitigation, which the court would interpret as reversing their plea. One inmate who can testify to the effectiveness of having paralegals in jail is Gaston Stephen, who was staring at a life behind bars after being arrested with six stones of bhang worth Sh3,000.
Narcotic drugsGaston was arrested on June 8, 2014 at a roadblock along the Loitokitok-Emali road in Kajiado County, taken to court and charged with trafficking in narcotic drugs. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life imprisonment. In addition, he was fined Sh1 million or serve one more year in prison. Gaston, however, was advised to move to the High Court to request the sentence be reduced. His argument was that it was excessive and the magistrate had not taken into account that the cannabis was for personal consumption. Kajiado High Court Judge Reuben Nyakundi observed that the sentence was harsh and excessive and reduced it to two years. “It will be an absurdity of law and the principles of sentencing in our criminal justice system to sentence an offender to life imprisonment in addition to a fine of Sh1 million for trafficking in cannabis sativa with a street value of Sh3,000,” Justice Nyakundi ruled. Kituo cha Sheria reports that since 2016, 5,600 inmates have been released following interventions by trained paralegals. In Nyeri, a report by the organisation said, 43 inmates have been granted freedom through successful filing of appeals at the High Court, Court of Appeal and even the Supreme Court. Anthony Mulekyo, a director at Kituo cha Sheria, said the training had been conducted in seven prisons - Kamiti , Shimo la Tewa, Lang’ata Women’s, Kodiaga, King’ong’o, Meru and Kakamega - and had opened the doors of justice for inmates too poor to afford a lawyer.
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