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Where prisons serve the purpose Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by TellUs, Jul 1, 2007
Health , Human Rights   Short Stories
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A prison is a rehabilitation institution meant to make convicts know that once their jail tem is over, the society expects a lot from them. Some come out as complete reformed ex-convicts as others are hardcore that nothing under the sun makes them fear.
Prisons are the only facilities meant to keep the law breakers in the full knowledge that the law, no matter how toothless it might be, is still in force.
So what is the course behind all these? Depending on the country one has been jailed, the situation and conditions coupled with the reform programmes puts the lives of ex-convicts at the periphery of being ostracized, hated and to some point, killed.

Kenya’s prisons, since 2003, have undergone major reforms that saw television sets, computers, educational facilities and god public image in place. Established in 1902 under the East African Prisons Regulations, Kenya’s prisons were in Prof. J.M. Sethna’s words “… miserable places where men, women and children, first offenders, casual offenders and habituals were bundled together like rats in hamper and pigs in a sty. They were dark, cold, damp and vermin infested.”
In his book, “Society and the Criminal,” Sethna was perhaps talking of the despotic, deplorable and inhuman conditions in a number of developing countries prisons. As colonial progeny, jails in many developing nations were created with an aim of lowering human beings to the lowest level possible and aggrandise their world-view, putting them to live under extreme fear, hatred, and develop some inferiority complex.

Ex-convicts from Kenya’s prisons gave a harrowing and chilling experience they underwent while behind the four white walls of incarceration, some of which haunt them psychologically. Food was poorly cooked, dehumanising conditions would force them to be hard cores and at the same time, congestion aided in the spread of contagious diseases such as Tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. Women, by their very own nature, were the easy target, suffered a great deal and twice as convicts and women. Harrowing stories explain that sanitary towels which, are a basic necessity for women, were not allowed. Instead, they would tear mattresses and blankets, which were dirty.
Because of this, during their menses, some women would give in to male officers’ sexual demands, “for the sake of protecting the ‘natural shame’.” The perpetrators of sexual violence blackmailed their victims with food and cigarettes in exchange of sex.
An errant suspect was locked up in a dark cell alone. His food ration was reduced to a quarter. Emaciated suspects would scoop crumbs of food from still sewers with bits of human waste bubbling up and down.
These psychological tortures were meant to make the prisoners lose hope in life that one would rather appeal to be hanged than serve in jail

The Prisons Act of Kenya section 36 subsection 1 states, “every convicted criminal prisoner shall be required to engage in useful work.” Subsection 2 of the same law adds, “The officer in charge or an officer detailed by him shall allot to each prisoner the labour for which he is best suited.”
It also provides that the prison industries are pursued to train inmates in useful skill for the job market, make them contribute to their upkeep and encourage inmates’ sense of self-respects and personal responsibility. These laws are borrowed and localised from the Geneva Convention, which Kenya is party to.

Following the coming into power of the current government through popular vote some five years ago, Kenya’s prisons have undergone major reforms by instilling better standards for the treatment of prisoners by making them more accommodative and develop a humane attitude. Although regarded by its fiercest critics as political gimmick, the prison reform cannot go unnoticed nor can it shoved aside as mere public relations.
In a number of times, major events organised by the prison department such as catwalks, fashion and design, exhibitions, convicts taking examinations and provision of basic support such as sanitary towels, dental and medical check-ups thus giving the prisoners a time to enjoy the benefits as the rest of the citizens do. At one point, the prisoners were demanding their conjugal rights!

Although a lot needs to be done, one would envy ex-convicts as well as inmates ‘special privilege’ as an admiration. The prisons department has indeed gone a long way in changing the face of the prisons system in Kenya which had been neglected over a longer period of time. It is no longer a home for the critics of the government or synonymous with a hopeless lot waiting for the hangman’s noose any time. Anybody who goes against the established law is bound to be incarcerated by failing to observe the importance of keeping order.

As long as the law is not an ass, the prisons would be homage to the rich and poor, educated and illiterate, highly religious or atheists, as long as one

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