Hundreds of 'reformed' convicts to be released: Should we be afraid?

It is just a matter of time before more ex-convicts are offloaded back into communities as authorities try to decongest aprisons whose populations are above the recommended capacity.
Subject to the advice and recommendations of the Power of Mercy Advisory Committee (POMAC), about 900 ‘reformed’ hardcore convicts will be released.  
This will be in addition to 3,908 petty offenders released since June 1, through a presidential pardon.  
The release of the huge number of prisoners comes at a time when police officers are grappling with insecurity challenges. When not on standby to deal with incidents of electoral violence, the cops have to keep tabs on criminals gangs that have resurfaced ahead of the General Election.
Already these vicious gangs have wreaked havoc in Ongata Rongai, Mombasa and Nakuru where cops are struggling to tame them. The presence of ex-convicts among communities is, therefore, likely to make a bad situation worse.
From previous experience, some of pardoned prisoners find engaging in violent robbery, burglary, motor vehicle or livestock theft irresistible.  
Cops generally fear the next lot of ex-convicts coming out of prisons will relapse into crime, making their work more difficult.
“Our worry is that many of them will go back into crime; this is not farfetched but a common trend based on past experiences. Once these guys are set free, the impact will be instant with crimes shooting up,” says a senior police officer, who spoke to The Nairobian, representing the views of some of his colleagues
But Police spokesman Bruno Shioso says there is no cause for alarm since officers are trained on how to deal with lawbreakers, and that ex-convicts are no exception when it comes to enforcing law and order.
He said they are certain that prisons authorities will only let out those who proved beyond doubt that they have reformed and become responsible citizens. 
“But for those who think they will go back to crime, we shall deal with them within the realms of the law,” noted Shioso
The police fear is understandable since recently, a former convict bludgeoned his mother to death in Riagicheru village of Kirinyaga County. Barely days after being released from jail last month, Ephantus Kiura shocked locals when he allegedly killed Grace Muthoni Ndambiri on June 12 by hitting the elderly woman with a blunt object.
Kiura had been imprisoned at the Gathigiriri Prison by a court in Mwea for torching his 76-year-old mother’s house. Upon earning freedom through a presidential pardon, the man brutally killed his mother. He was among the 3,908 petty offenders released from prison in a decongestion programme.  
Kiura was a beneficiary of the Community Service Order. However, he never waited to serve the noncustodial sentence and is now staring at life behind bars for the alleged murder.
Petty offenders put on this form of light punishment are required to perform a specified number of hours of unpaid work in the community. This, however, does not apply to prisoners serving jail for capital offences.
Authorities admit that it is often difficult to ascertain the prisoners who correctly merit release. Some of those who make it to the freedom list either fake  having reformed or bribe prison officials — ultimately leading to the wrong individuals being reintegrated back into communities.
Though stakeholders have no right prescription for selecting the right convicts for pardon, the general feeling is that more attention should be put on rehabilitation of inmates to achieve the desired change.
“Prisons have turned into containment facilities as opposed to rehabilitation centres where inmates and convicts are turned into responsible citizens,” states Ambrose Ngare, a former prisons boss.
According to Ngare, now executive director of Africa Institute of Criminology, a non governmental organisation dealing in restorative justice, it is pointless releasing prisoners without first endeavouring to reconcile them with the victims they wronged.
“The relationship between the victims and offenders is rarely repaired. It is counter-productive to release prisoners without reconciling them with the offenders going back to communities where they are likely to face hostilities due to the existing bad blood,” states Ngare.
Further, most of the ex-convicts are likely to fall back to crime since they leave jail without acquiring requisite basic skills that can enable them engage in income generating activities.
Ngare says there is no skills transfer following the collapse of entrepreneurial activities within correctional facilities. The scenario, he notes, predisposes prisoners back to crime since they are taught nothing useful in jail.
“Some years back, prisons were committed to rehabilitation of the inmates, but this is no longer the case because they end up becoming hardcore criminals who, when released, pick up from where they left,” says security expert Enock Makanga.
One way of ensuring the public and police in general are protected from the risks posed by the ex-convicts is reducing their sentences instead of releasing them, suggests Elsy Saina, executive director, International Commission of Jurists (ICJ).
“Alternatively, in the current context and environment, it makes sense for the president to exercise his powers by releasing most of the petty offender by 70 per cent,” says Saina, adding that by so doing, space will be created for hardcore criminals, who will then receive proper rehabilitation.
It is an open secret that some of the prisoners bribe warders to earn freedom leading to high relapse rates. The malpractice is widespread and five years ago, a prison commandant in one of the facilities in Lower Eastern came under sharp criticism for condoning the vice.
Then POMAC chief executive officer Michael Kagika said: “It is inherent when a person is in a tight situation to fall for anything that is likely to lessen his or her burden. Therefore, in prison, convicts are likely to give money to wayward warders on the false promise that freedom will be granted,” said Kagika.
Two years ago, Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) boss George Kinoti halted the release of 120 hardcore criminals after it emerged that most of them had bribed prisons officials to merit freedom.
This is after fingerprint analysis on some of the convicts showed that they did not meet conditions for release.
“As a law enforcement agency, we have noted with concern that most convicted criminals find their way back into the society where they continue to commit crimes in an even more atrocious manner,” said Kinoti.
The DCI chief then proposed the reconstitution of POMAC to include representatives from DCI, National Intelligence Service, national government administration officers and Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP).
POMAC is finalising the list of the 900 convicts set to earn their freedom back after satisfying vetting panels within and outside prisons.
In vetting them, authorities what to establish whether the reformed convicts will not breach the peace once out and that they will not be harmed or harassed in their new environments.
“We want to make sure that all that make it to the list will not cause problems once set free,” Commissioner General of Prisons Brig (Rtd) John Warioba told The Nairobian.
POMAC chief executive officer Dr Lydia Muriuki says all should be well.
 “We have put in place robust reintegration, empowerment and resettlement programmes that will enable some of them get back on their feet.”

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