Kenya Prisons Service


Kenya Prisons Service is headed by the commissioner of prisons. It derives its mandate from the Prisons Act, Borstal Act and Public Service Commission Act.

Kenya Prisons Service functions are to contain and keep offenders in safe custody, rehabilitate and reform offenders, facilitate administration of justice and promote prisoners opportunities for social re-integration. To decongest the prisons, non-custodial sentences such as community service are used by courts as alternative to jail terms.

The prison’s Rapid Results Initiative (RRI) was launched in 2007 to harness team strength and client participation to speed up delivery of services within 100 days. The approach tackled large-scale, medium and long-term change efforts through a series of small-scale, results-producing and momentum-building initiatives.

Prisons in Kenya

In 1911, the Kenya Prison Service was established under the Ministry of Home Affairs, Heritage and Sports. In 1917, the posts of Commissioner of Prisons and Assistant Commissioner of Prisons were created, and the control and management of prisons became the sole responsibility of the commissioner.

The 92 correctional institutions in Kenya include 89 prisons, two borstals; and one youth training centre. In 1911,319 staff supervised 6,559 inmates.

Since 2003, when president Kibaki came to power, prisons have undergone major reforms that saw television sets, computers and educational facilities. The prison service has also cultivated a good public image. Inmates now have access to television radio broadcasts. TV sets are fitted on walls of prison halls. Prisoners spend their evenings watching news and other programmes.

Since 2003 prisons have instilled better standards for the treatment of prisoners by making them more accommodative and developing a human attitude. Major events are organized by the prison service to showcase how prisons have come-catwalks, fashion and design, exhibitions convicts sitting national exams and provision of sanitary towels dental and medical check-ups.

The department has gone a long way in changing the face of the prisons system in Kenya, which had been neglected over a long period. Sanitation has improved remarkably and the supply of water to prisons regularized. Prisoners’ diet- comprising sukuma wiki, cabbage, beans, ugali and beef improved_ and the rations are more and satisfying.

Prison wardens are more friendly and useful to inmates. Senior officers have been identified to listen to prisoners’ views and complaints and look into their welfare. They meet inmates and ask about their welfare and problems. They also interview ailing inmates and recommend treatment or arrange for the sick to see Government doctors.

Generally inmates are treated much more humanely than was the case years ago. Kenya Prisons have bought ambulances, water bowsers and vehicles as part of a reform programme to improve services. As a result staff and inmates’ health care will improve and boost productions, besides alleviating water shortage in prisons.

Houses for prison staff have been built to improve the living condition of warders and senior officers.

Salaries of prison staff were increased and brought in line with those of the police in 2004. More salary reviews have improved remunerations.

Reforms in the Kenya Prisons Service

Over the years, many changes and reviews have taken place in the service, resulting in the current Prisons Act (Cap 90) and Borstal Act (Cap 92), and more recently in 1999, the Extra Mural Penal Employment was abolished and replaced with Community Service Orders (CSO) under the Department of Probation and Aftercare Services.

The core functions of the Kenya Prisons Service are:-

  1. Contain and keep offenders in safe custody
  2. Rehabilitate and reform offenders
  3. Facilitate administration of justice
  4. Promote prisoners’ opportunities for social reintegration

Further changes have been proposed, including name change from Prison’s Department to Correctional Services Department and the incorporation of the Probations Department to the Prison’s Department as it offers closely related services.

Under the Governance, Justice, Law and Order Sector (GJLOS) reform programme, the Prisons Service has offered convicts dignified living conditions in prison. The Service has moved from the policy of years gone by that prisons are not hotels, to reform initiatives aimed at restitution of the dignity of the human life to acceptable levels, in line with international conventions that Kenya is party to.

Prisons had been known to hold up to 10 times the number of inmates they were originally designed for. The Community Service Orders have proved a useful tool in rehabilitating those charged with minor offences, thus reducing the number of people being jailed. New accommodation Limits have been constructed for inmates in specific prisons to ease congestion and new prisons have been built in Yatta, Makueni and Kwale Prisons.

Kenya’s prisons have continued to offer inmates rehabilitation programmes and vocational education and training that would help them be reintegrated into the society and actively participate in positive socio-economic engagements upon release. In most cases, ex-convicts are stigmatised in their communities when they return after completion of their jail terms. The skills gained enhance their chances of engaging in gainful employment and minimize their chances of returning to criminal activities.

Inmates nowadays are transported in buses instead of lorries, their clothing has improved and they are allowed to wear shoes and long trousers. Vocational education and training exposes them to livestock production, which encompasses dairy production, rearing of cattle, rabbits, pigs, fish, poultry and bees, olericulture (vegetable production), pomology (fruit production), sericulture (silk production),  floriculture and production of spices and herbs.

Inmates also engage in mushroom production, carpentry, garment making, upholstery, metal work, soap making, saloon management and cosmetology, masonry, painting, knitting, pottery and brick making.

Efforts to enhance rehabilitation services have been stepped up by recruiting professionals in relevant disciplines, including religion, psychology, social work, medicine, engineering and law.

The Prison Service has also strived to improve the terms and conditions for its wardens by improving their terms of service and retraining them in areas, such as human rights, for better management of the prisoners under their charge.

The officials have new uniforms, sprucing up the image of the Prisons Service.

The Kenya Prisons Service is an active member of the African Correctional Services Association (ACSA), launched on September 26, 2010, in Livingstone, Zambia.

ACSA will provide the continent with a forum to address endemic problems in prisons like congestion, and inadequate rehabilitation facilities.

The Directorate of Prisons Enterprises engages inmates in agricultural and industrial production. Inmates grow cash crops, such as tea in Kericho Prison and Uruku Prison in Meru, coffee in Nyeri, Ruiru, Shikusa, Kerugoya and Embu Prisons, pyrethrum in Uruku Prison, cotton in Makueni Prison to oil crops grown in Coast and Western provinces.

They also make furniture, garments and motor vehicle number plates.

The directorate boasts of the following achievements;

  1. Self sufficiency in vegetable production;
  2. Enhanced productivity in cereals;
  3. Sustainable growth in prison farms revolving funds;
  4. Increased inmates’ training on areas applicable to the current socio-economic realities;
  5. Stepped up production of vehicle number plates to meet the ever rising market demands;
  6. In line with the Social Pillar of Vision 2030 with regard to clean, secure and sustainable environment, the Carpenter’s Green Corner Scheme has been introduced to augment afforestation programmes in all prisons; and
  7. Increased mechanisation of farm operations through procurement of additional tractors and accessories.

The challenges that have hampered efforts to accomplish optimal output include:

  1. Climatic change leading to persistent crop failure and grain contamination (aflatoxin);
  2. Industrial losses caused by power outages;
  3. Inadequate state – of- the-art machines to boost production;
  4. Financial constraints; and
  5. Encroachment on prisons land by private developers.

The horticultural enterprise is multifaceted as captured below:

To promote environmental sustainability, the directorate has been planting both exotic and indigenous trees in collaboration with organisations, such as the Green Belt Movement. The “Carpenters Corner” tree planting initiative has enabled the Prisons Service to create woodlots, conserve the environment and train inmates.  In 2011, the Kenya Prison put up a state-of-the-art biogas cooking unit at the Embu Prison. The unit uses recycled waste and has gone a long way towards saving on wood fuel, which also checks deforestation.

Some 518 modern staff houses have been built to improve staff living conditions. Another 200 are set to be constructed.

In a bid to reduce congestion and take services closer to the people, six new prisons are currently nearing completion in various counties. Sixty new prisoners’ accommodation wards were built in existing prisons. Prison meals have improved, with sugar and rice featuring in the menu.

Kenya Prison, in conjunction with mobile phone service provider Safaricom, installed mobile phone jammers and CCTV cameras in Kamiti and Naivasha prisons in a bid to enhance security and deter the use of phones to commit offences from within the correction institutions through illegal communication.

Dog units were also introduced in major prisons to improve security control. To improve the skills of prison’s officers and staff, a modern training wing was constructed at the Kenya Prison’s Staff Training College in Ruiru.

The Kenya Prison’ industrial wing supplied seats for the refurbished Parliament and the Milimani courts.

History of prison Service in Kenya

In 1911, the Kenya Prison service was established. In 1917, the posts of commissioner of Prisons and assistant Commissioner of prisons were created. In 1911, 319 staff members supervised 6,559 inmates. Kenya has 92 correctional institutions — 89 prisons, two borstals and one youth corrective training centre.



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