Hope for inmates as Judiciary kicks off programme to decongest cells

Inmates at Kamiti Medium Security Prison's entrance, September 4, 2022. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

Hundreds of prisoners could soon walk to freedom following a move by the Judiciary to decongest prisons.

Chief Registrar of the Judiciary Anne Amadi, in a memo to all heads of court stations across the country, said the Judiciary was concerned with the high number of inmates in prisons, currently almost twice their capacity.

"We are worried about the unprecedented high number of inmates given that as at December 5, the national prison population stood at 58,887 against the prisons capacity of 34,000. The high number is posing challenges to the prisons service, including provision of basic needs," said Amadi.

The Chief Registrar, in the memo copied to Chief Justice Martha Koome, told judges and magistrates to immediately begin the programme to decongest prisons by using non-custodial sentences and reviewing cash bail for those in remand due to inability to raise bail.

Amadi said the courts should encourage the use of non-custodial sentences and alternative sanctions for offences which are not serious, like imposing affordable fines, community service, reconciliation, probation and conditional discharges.

She further instructed heads of court stations to immediately liaise with prison authorities to identify and provide lists of remand prisoners facing petty offences who deserve a review of bail terms to enable them leave prison and defend themselves while out on bond.

"This process of identifying the remand prisoners should start immediately and the report of the outcome filed in the office of the Chief Registrar on or before Friday 23, 2022," said Amadi.

The Judiciary decided to reduce the number of petty offenders in remand who constitute about 41 per cent (24,143) of the total inmates in Kenya's prisons, said Amadi.

She added that the process of reviewing bail terms would be done in consultation with prosecutors from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

This follows a similar programme in May when former Interior CS Fred Matiang'i announced that they would release 5,000 petty offenders to decongest prisons.

Dr Matiang'i had revealed that prisons were struggling with congestion worsened by too many petty offenders who could not raise cash bail or pay the alternative fines imposed by courts.

The former CS had also indicated that the government would work with chiefs, their assistants and probation officers in identifying prisoners who had reformed and could be integrated in the community once released from jail and enrolled for community service.

Under the Community Service Orders Act, petty offenders and those with three or less years remaining in their sentences can be released and committed to community service for a specific period.

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