State in new plan to reduce prison population by half

Correctional Services Principal Secretary Mary Muthoni

Correctional Services Principal Secretary Mary Muthoni tries some woodwork at the Kerugoya prison which she visited to assess the state of wardens and prisoners. The PS said the government is committed to decongesting prisons countrywide in the next year.

Photo credit: Pool

Hundreds of inmates remaining with three years of their jail term or less could soon walk to freedom as the government steps up efforts to decongest prisons.

Correctional Services Principal Secretary Mary Muthoni yesterday said the government plans to decongest the prisons by 50 per cent. The Economic Survey 2023 revealed that the number of inmates increased from 160,121 in 2021 to 169,579 in 2022.

She said they are already reviewing cases of prisoners under the category, as well as those of petty offenders. The PS said they are working closely with the Judiciary and other stakeholders to facilitate the plan.

She explained that a judge in charge of community service has started reviewing the cases to see if such inmates can be released.

“There are inmates who have been in prison for more than 20 years and are remaining with three years to go. We want to review their cases and see if they can be released,” said Ms Muthoni. “This is a win-win situation. It is a win for the government, the community where the inmates come from and society.”

The PS indicated that another avenue they are exploring is the power of mercy where a committee is established to handle cases to be pardoned. This route involves a pardon officer filling in details for inmates to qualify them to be pardoned by the President.

The committee then sits and sends probation officers to an inmate’s community and family to see whether integration is possible before the list is presented to the President for pardon.

“This is a very meticulous process as we must ensure the offenders are not going to be at risk or create a risk in society. We look at the number of years served, reports from probation and pardon officers, and officer-in-charge before putting an inmate for pardon,” she said.

The prisons are facing the challenge of surging numbers of remandees, especially those arrested for illegal liquor brewing.

“Instead of having so many remandees, could we also explore the alternative dispute resolution mechanism so that issues that can be sorted at the chiefs’, church and Nyumba Kumi levels are done to ensure we do not congest our prisons,” she said.

At the same time, Ms Muthoni said they are looking at elevating the Prisons’ services to international standards by improving living conditions. “In the next one to two years, we want to see every prisoner having a bed, a mattress and a blanket. It is doable.”

Already, they have 15,000 mattresses and are looking at securing another 60,000 in a year through a public-private partnership.