In 1963, the country's first Parliament enacted a Borstal Institutions Act Chapter 92 to provide for detention of youthful offenders.
This gave rise to the nation's first such institution in Kakamega named Shikusa Borstal Institution (BI).
The model was heavily borrowed from England's Kent District at a village called Borstal. The construction of Shikusa Borstal was started by the colonial government in 1952.
On September 20 1963, Shikusa Borstal opened its doors to the first offender who was SHB/01/1963 Peter Kabuga from Murang'a.
"The institutions were established to cater for young offenders separately from hardened criminals who could contaminate them," says Simon Ojwang', Deputy Superintendent at Shikusa Borstal Institution.
In September 1965, Shimo La Tewa Borstal Institution was opened to serve as an overflow for Shikusa. It has a capacity of about 320.
"The facility receives inmates from Coast, Lower Eastern, Garissa and North Eastern and parts of Central but the majority are from Western, Nyanza, Nairobi and Rift Valley. Some from Eastern and Central go to Shikusa," said Shimo La Tewa Borstal Institution Superintendent In-charge Omondi Adero.
The BIs hold boys from age 15 to 18 for a maximum of three years irrespective of the (gravity of) the offence. However, those who show positive change can be released after a year. The superintendent in charge has to authorise such a release. However, the parole terms can be revoked if and when the conditions for release are not met.
The (violent) nature of the inmate's home environment is also gauged before release. Contrary to popular belief, Kamiti Youth Corrective Training Centre is not a BI. The centre admits adults over 18 years but bellow 21 years who serve a maximum sentence of four months practicing vocational training. This, however, does not mean that BIs do not offer vocational training.
BIs offer training in carpentry, masonry, tailoring, painting and wiring besides formal education (Class Seven and Eight). Last year, Shikusa introduced secondary education.
"Last year, we established Form One and Two classes here seeing that we receive boys some of who are from secondary schools. It was hurting back in the day when such were forced by circumstances to go back to primary," said Mr Ojwang.
The BIs like many adult correctional institutions suffer myriads of challenges due to under funding.
"We have less bed capacity forcing new inmates to sleep on the floor, our library lacks books and the secondary school section lacks a laboratory," Ojwang' told The Standard.
Mr Adero said Simo La Tewa will have a secondary school by early next year. Against all odds, Shimo La Tewa topped in last year's Kenya Certificate of Primary Education in Kisauni Sub-County prompting the Deputy President's Office to pay fees for all 22 boys who sat the exam. The institution has participated in sporting activities and drama festivals for the past four years.
In his over 20 years in Prison service, which has seen him serve at Kamiti, Kodiaga and Kibos, Ojwang' says that unlike adults, young offenders change quickly. However, he regrets that most parents are unco-operative.
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"We have had many cases of parents refusing to take back their reformed children especially those who committed capital offences like murder due to cultural beliefs and so on. In such instances, non-governmental organisations have stepped in and adopted the children," he said.
Given there are only two such facilities in the country, most of the inmates are taken far from their parents thus losing touch.
"We have resorted to remote parenting where our boys call their parents on mobile phones during certain days to make sure that the link between them does not die. It also helps bring closure to the ills the boys caused their parents and the society at large," said Adero.
Stealing is the major offence that leads most of the minors to the BIs followed by sexual offences (defilement in particular).
"When we receive the boys we take them through group and individual counselling. Some weep bitterly, saying they did not commit the crimes they are accused of. You find, for instance, a step-mother accusing her step-child of defiling his step-sister just to get rid of him," said Shikusa BI Welfare Officer Thomas Onderi.
Shikusa has only seven counsellors serving 346 offenders.
Shikusa BI Documentations Officer Jack Anyanje said most offenders are from "unstable" families.