In Summary
  • Congestion heightens the spread of diseases, and the rates of tuberculosis and HIV in prison are double those of the free population.
  • Multiple barriers prevent most detainees from obtaining justice.

  • Families of inmates lose income, forfeit education opportunities and incur generational disadvantages as a result of pretrial detention.

Inmates at Nairobi Remand and Allocation Maximum Security Prison in the Industrial Area staged a hunger strike last month to protest poor living conditions.

Coincidentally, a day later, men and women prisoners in more than 17 detention facilities in the United States began a strike to advocate against “modern-day slavery” in the facilities.

In Kenya, thousands of prisoners languish in overcrowded jails, where the capacity is above 200 per cent, based on the latest data from World Prison Brief.

Of the incarcerated, some 40 per cent — roughly 23,000 people — stay in custody for nearly 2.5 years before their trials begin.

Congestion heightens the spread of diseases, and the rates of tuberculosis and HIV in prison are double those of the free population. The consequences of incarceration also manifest beyond the time in prison. Former inmates are highly likely to encounter difficulties in looking for employment and reintegrating into society.

UNJUST VERDICTS

The root cause of the problem is that many detainees in Kenya should not even be in prison in the first place. The majority simply lack the means to defend themselves in court, resulting in unjust verdicts that could have been challenged and overturned.

Multiple barriers prevent most detainees from obtaining justice. About 90 per cent of them cannot afford quality legal representation.

Besides, finding a lawyer in Kenya is a challenge. According to a University of Pennsylvania report, one lawyer serves 5,686 people in Kenya. Even when they access legal service, they only see their lawyer once — often on the day of the trial.

Without access to quality legal services, defendants are unable to present an adequate defence in court and judges lack sufficient information to deliver a balanced verdict.

SOCIOECONIMIC DEVELOPMENT

The challenges in legal representation and a backlog of cases leads to unnecessary imprisonment for long periods, denying thousands of people the opportunity to be productive members of society and a good quality life.

Pre-trial detention undermines socioeconomic development, especially in poorer communities that are least able to handle the impact. Each incarcerated income earner supports an average of six other individuals; and 165,000 people are affected daily.

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