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Kenya Prisons Service

Kenya Prisons Service
Kenya Prisons Service
The Kenya Prisons Service is a department Within the Ministry of Home Affairs. The Department is headed by the Commissioner of Prisons who is vested with powers and responsibilities for smooth administration of the department.

Currently there are 93 penal institutions, including two Borstal Institutions and one Youth Correctional Training Centre (YCTC). Construction of six more prisons is ongoing.

The average prisoners’ population oscillates between 45,000 to 50,000. Out of this, the remand population constitutes 60 per cent.

Prisons in Kenya have evolved through many phases since their establishment by the colonial regime in 1911, where jails were used as a deterrent measure by way of hard labour.

The Prisons Act (Cap 90) and Borstal Institution Act (Cap 92) empowers the Prisons Service to perform the following functions:-

  1. Containment and keeping in safe custody of prisoners

  2. Rehabilitation/ reformation of prisoners through training and counseling

  3. Facilitation of administration of justice through the production of prisoners to court for trials.

  4. Control and training of young offenders in Borstal Institutions

  5. Recruiting, training and developing suitable personnel for the service.

  6. Providing for children below the age of 4 years accompanying their mothers to prisons.

  7. Providing basic human needs to prisoners.

  8. Providing a conducive working environment for prisons’ personnel.

  9. Promoting awareness amongst and providing useful information to both staff and prisoners on social Welfare issues such as HIV/ AIDS.

  10. Conducting research and monitoring crime trends in the republic

In 2002, the Government spelt out a plan of reform for institutions of governance, in particular the Prisons Department. The open door policy was immediately augmented and all stakeholders were invited to be part of the reform process.

  1. In 2003, the department produced its first ever strategic plan (2003-7) with assistance of (KNHRC). The existence of the plan is a success story confirming prisons embracing the results oriented management practice associated with modern public and private sector institutions.

  2. Human resource management. Previously, prisons department operated without a clearly documented scheme of service for staff. In 2004, the department initiated a process aimed at formulating a scheme of service for all categories of officers. This effort has borne dividends and the scheme of service is to be officially launched on 31st July 2007.

  3. Management culture. Prior to the introduction of the open door policy, prisons management culture was characterized by authoritarianism and lack of any result oriented objectives. This has changed and most prison commanders have embraced progressive style of leadership. Most senior officers are receptive to constitution engagement with their erstwhile critics, human rights and NGO’s.

  4. The department has ably attempted to entrench the open door policy by the creation of the public relation office to handle issues of the communication policy and official position to the public.

  5. The corruption prevention committee (CPO) has been set up to deal with graft issues at the Prisons Headquarters. This has been embraced at provincial and station level.

Prisoners’ diet

A new dietary scale was passed in Parliament and approved in 1997 under legal notices 539 and 540. Due to financial constraints, the diet has not been fully implemented. However, currently there is a drastic change in quality and variety.

Prisoners’ canteen

These were reintroduced for prisoners to be able to supplement on commodities such as fruits, soap, bread, milk, toothpaste and toothbrushes, etc., which are essential for human comfort.

Remote parenting

This is a form of visitation borrowed from the Chinese correctional system and is being implemented in selected prisons on a pilot scheme in Kenya. It is a practice where a day is set aside for children to meet their parents who are in prison. Currently, it is being practiced in Langata, Thika Women and Shimo-laa Tewa Prisons. This reunion has proved to have psychological benefits to both groups as expressed by both the children and parents after the visits.


During the colonial days, there was no meaningful training for prison officers. A few young people were picked at District levels with little regard to education and general ability and sent to the few penal institutions. This type of officer was called DCO’s.

Later in 1954, Prisons Staff Training College was founded. Its purpose was to train officers in security matters, containment and safe custody of offenders.

After independence in 1963, the need to shift from punitive to correctional and rehabilitation of offenders arose. The scope of training changed to rehabilitation by offering humane treatment to prisoners and observing human rights ethics.

Today, the Prison Staff Training College has curved its niche in meeting training needs to prison officers. The college offers tailor—made courses to recruits and in-service officers for induction and capacity building. It is an instrument of change and plays an important role in the ongoing prisons reforms.

So far, the training capacity of the college has expanded tremendously and is now emerging within East and Central Africa as a leading college in manpower development and correctional management.


In the past, the Prisons Department transport system was poor. There were very few vehicles and most were old fashioned. In the advent of prisons reforms, the department partnered and received support from the Governance Justice Law and Order Sector (GILOS) to help and alleviate the transport problem.

This venture was quite successful and a fleet of relatively comfortable buses was purchased, replacing the rickety old caged vehicles. These greatly improved transport in penal institutions and facilitated easy access to courts.

Apart from buses, the department also received a water browser to cater for water shortages, ambulances for evacuating patients to hospital and Land Rovers for use in the remote areas. Prisons’ transport section is now well managed.

Prison staff housing project

For many years, Prisons’ staff lived in poor conditions that were termed to be worse than those of the inmates they took care of. Through the reforms and the support given by the Government, the department received a budgetary allocation of Kshs500 million to be used in construction of better staff houses.

Phase l of the project is near completion at Nairobi Remand/ Allocation, Nairobi West prison and Langata Women Prison. Similar projects have been started in 14 other penal institutions around the country and soon or later the problem of housing for prisons officers shall be a thing of the past.

Recreation and general welfare

Since the beginning of the reforms programmes in penal institutions, the period has witnessed great changes in different spheres.

Among them is the provision of previously alien items like television sets and radios for information as well serve as forms of entertainment. All types of games for inmates now take place in prisons after supply of games equipments.

Bedding materials are in plenty and inmates no longer sleep on hard floors. The colonial white khaki short and shirt, commonly known as ‘kunguru’ that previously were inmates uniform was discarded for more descent attire. Today, prisoners wear long trousers and shoes. The female inmates are now allowed to wear inner garment that was unheard of in the past.

Decongesting Kenya prisons

Prisons in Kenya are faced with the problem of congestion that fluctuates between 250 — 300 per cent. The current capacity is about 16,500 as opposed to the actual prisoners’ population of 48,000.

This has impacted negatively on the day to day running of the correctional institutions. It has also led to a myriad of other problems including inefficiency of rehabilitation programmes due to large numbers of inmates, delayed dispensation of justice, budgetary constraints for the Government, limited or total lack of basic facilities and other amenities, outbreak of diseases and poor sanitation.

To date, there have been several efforts towards decongestion. These include improving inter— agency collaboration and partnering with willing stakeholders in the criminal justice system and civil society in trying to address the problem of congestion in prisons. This is necessary because the factors causing congestion include delays in case dispensation, excessive bail or inadequate use of bails, unnecessary or excessive remanding of suspects and inadequate use of alternatives to imprisonment making it not only the business of the prisons to deal with congestion but also other departments like Community Service Order, Judiciary, Police and Probation Departments.

Decongestion of Prisons is high on the Government’s agenda. The effort has seen two pilot institutions, Nairobi Remand and Langata Women, reduce their prisoners’ population by 24 per cent. Out of an initial figure of 3,816 prisoners, there has been a decrease of 914.

Members of the civil society have also been inducted into the process. A good example is the Legal Resource Foundation Who assist the poor, vulnerable and marginalized to access justice by giving paralegal services in Nairobi, Machakos, Kisumu, Nakuru, Meru and Thika. Another is the GJLOS programme that has assisted in acquiring modern buses for transporting prisoners humanely.

There has been expansion of several prisons e.g. construction of a remand ward in Langata Women, Ruiru, and Makueni Prisons. Plans are underway for the construction of a Borstal Institution for girls at Embakasi in Nairobi.

There is improved sanitation. Boreholes have been sank in prisons without piped water e.g. Nairobi West.

It was Commissioner of Prisons Abraham Kamakil who in December 2000 boldly introduced the open door policy to enlist partnership with NGOs, civil society and other stakeholders towards improving Prisons conditions.

The office of Public Relations was created at the Prisons Headquarters to highlight functions of the department and to demystify issues the public was not aware of regarding good management practices in the department.

In October 2001, a round table conference held at Mountain Lodge Nyeri came up with a policy document on the theme “Towards Methods of Improving Prisons Policy in Kenya”. It was called the Mount Kenya Declaration. It contained the following areas: -

Decongesting the Prisons.

  1. Speeding up administration of justice.

  2. Alternative to custody.

  3. Re - examination of the existing Legislation.

Improving conditions in Prisons.

  1. Improving prisoners’ diet.

  2. Bedding and clothing.

  3. Improving health facilities by establishing an autonomous Prisons Medical Service.

  4. Expansion of recreational facilities for both prisoners and staff.

  5. Improve sanitation.

  6. Separation of young children accompanying their mothers to prison.

  7. Separate juveniles from adult and train staff Well to care for them in borstal institutions for boys and girls.

Improving management in the justice sector:

  1. Review of Prisons laws.

  2. Improving terms of service of law enforcement officers.

  3. Address Prisons staff accommodation problem.

  4. Recruitment of specialized staff and review of staff Training curriculum.

  5. Strengthen research and statistics unit.

  6. Computerise the functions of the department.

  7. Creation of model Prisons.

  8. Provision of adequate transport.

  9. 4. Improving Inter-agency collaboration

Improving openness and Collaboration:

  1. Encouraging openness and transparency in criminal and justice systems

  2. Community participation in rehabilitation.

  3. Formulate policy for involvement of NGOs in participation of Prisons’ programmes.

Other Recommendations:

  1. View penal reforms as a poverty reduction strategy.

  2. Share experiences with other countries on penal reforms.

  3. Initiate coordination with the donor community, criminal justice agencies, the public and the media.

  4. Appoint a task force to explore most urgent ways of implementing these recommendations.

Kenya Prisons Service achievements to date

  1. Training curriculum inculcating human rights culture has been developed.

  2. Training and retraining of staff is being undertaken.

  3. Prisons enterprises (farms and Industries) have been revamped towards self— sufficiency.

  4. Prisons legislation and policies are being reviewed.

  5. Funds already provided for construction of staff houses - Kshs500m in the 2013/ 14 year.

  6. Implementation of the Scheme of Service is underway.

  7. Prisoners’ diet improved; now includes rice and sugar in porridge.

  8. Introduction of new uniform for prisoners. Shoes now allowed.

  9. Open door policy has resulted in working together with stakeholders to improve prisoners and staff Welfare.

  10. Relationship with media and public improved.

  11. Improved sanitation. Boreholes sank in prisons without piped water while modern toilets and latrines have replaced bucket system toilets.

  12. 21 modern buses for transporting prisoners humanely were purchased and also a water browser to counter water shortage.

  13. Human Rights observation improved as a result of provision of many courses for prison officers on human Rights.

  14. Kenya Prisons Services are now in demand regionally, The Government of Southern Sudan has signed an MOU for training of their staff.

  15. Forty middle level Prison officers were trained in 2007 while another group of 100 is expected to report to the Kenya Prisons Staff Training College for four months training on Prisons management.

  16. Prisons Staff Training College is transforming into a tertiary institution and will soon offer Diploma and Degree courses in collaboration with local universities.

  17. Gender mainstreaming is advanced in Prisons. Senior Deputy Commissioner is a female officer.

  18. Others are heading or deputizing provinces and in male institutions which were a preserve of their male counterparts e. g. Shimo-la-Tewa and Nairobi West Prisons.

  19. One Half Way House has been put up in Kamiti to facilitate prisoners’ reintegration into the society.

Kenya Prisons Service challenges

  1. Overcrowding.

  2. Inadequate budgetary allocations

  3. Insufficient number of professionally trained prison personnel to handle rehabilitation based on offenders needs.

  4. Prisons considered negative investment institutions.

  5. Poor public perception on none custodial sentencing options.

  6. Weak enforcement of none custodial sentencing options.

  7. A Poor infrastructure e. g. housing for both prisoners and staff, training areas for prisoner’s rehabilitation programmes etc.

  8. Absence of a scheme of service capable of attracting and retaining Professional Correctional Officers.

  9. Uncoordinated management of issues within Justice Sector.

Kenya Prisons Commissioners since inception of the service.

  1. R. Donald 1918-1923

  2. C.E. Spencer 1923-1932

  3. Major E. Willcocks 1932-1938

  4. G.H. Heaton 1938-1951

  5. J.H. Lewis 1951-1960

  6. W.J.W. Burton 1960-1961

  7. Col J.A.B. Allan 1961-1964

  8. Andrew H. Saikwa 1964-1978

  9. Reuben W. Mutua 1978-1986

  10. Phillip K. Kirui 1986-1988

  11. James W. Mareka 1988-1993

  12. Edward P. Lopokoiyit 1993-2000

  13. Abraham M. Kamakil 2000-2005

  14. Gilbert M. Omondi 2005-2008

  15. Isaiah S.M Osugo 2008-Current

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Kenya Prisons Service


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