In Summary

  • People are imprisoned so they can pay for their crimes.

  • However, even in their incarceration, they are entitled to their basic human rights and an opportunity for rehabilitation to become more valuable members of society.

  • While the ideal is to have petty offenders perform community service or pay fines, the review and release of those in custody should be swift and continuous.

Congestion in jails is one of the biggest challenges for the prison system, whose core mandate is the rehabilitation of offenders. Whereas even petty offenders must pay the price for their transgressions, prisons are increasingly weighed down by hordes of inmates, who should be serving non-custodial sentences. Keeping prisoners is costly and the overcrowding hampers their capacity to serve as correctional centres.

Indeed, we are more used to the release of petty offenders in presidential amnesties to mark national days. But this show of clemency is also a tacit concession that something is wrong. President Kenyatta’s directive to release these petty offenders to decongest jails and reduce the public spending on them is nothing new. There have been numerous surveys, research and discussions on how to deal with petty offenders. Besides the cost, there is also the danger of exposing them to the influence of hardcore criminals.

People are imprisoned so they can pay for their crimes. However, even in their incarceration, they are entitled to their basic human rights and an opportunity for rehabilitation to become more valuable members of society. While the ideal is to have petty offenders perform community service or pay fines, the review and release of those in custody should be swift and continuous.