There was joy and jubilation at the Machakos GK Prison on Tuesday as the jail terms of 63 prisoners were commuted to community service.
The inmates who had been serving various prison terms after being convicted on petty offences included eight women and 55 men.
They are part of 10,000 inmates across the country whose terms have been converted to noncustodial sentences through the Department of Probation and After Care Services following a High Court review process aimed at decongesting the country’s penal facilities.
A total of 116 inmates from across the county were expected to benefit from the government’s move.
The Machakos County Commissioner (CC), Matilda Sakwa cautioned those released from prison against relapsing to crime.
She said while the government would do all in its power to ensure the former inmates are integrated back into the society, each one of them had the responsibility of ensuring such initiatives do not go to waste.
The county boss noted that while stigma against former inmates was still a thorny issue in the country, her office would employ the use of local leaders and chiefs to ensure the community embraces them back as part of the larger society.
“Once you leave here our chiefs will be monitoring your activities and reporting back to my office to see whether you are actually reforming your past life.
Prison walls are not the best places to be and therefore you must demonstrate to the society and the Probation officers who are overseeing your progress that you have actually changed,” she told the group.
Yusuf Kaipotok who is in charge of the male prison lauded the move of releasing the prisoners to serve non-custodial sentences, saying it will greatly create space in the medium facility whose population stands at 900 against a capacity of 500 inmates.
The officer noted that majority of those creating the congestion were petty offenders serving short sentences of between one and three years who would otherwise be better off serving non-custodial sentences.
“Petty offenders should be considered for non-custodial sentences instead of committing them to jail. At the moment our prison has a total of 900 inmates against a capacity of 500 with almost half of them being remands while the rest are convicts,” he said.
Kaipotok nevertheless said as a prison they had no authority to place any inmate on community service unless the order comes from the Probation office in conjunction with the High Court.
The County Probation Director, Serah John said her office had initially processed 450 forms for consideration but due to the long time needed to finalize the activity; majority of those targeted eventually left the prison after completing their jail terms.
She said some of those who will benefit from the programme are currently held in Yatta, Kitengela, Kamiti, Lang’ata and Athi River Prisons after being moved there upon conviction.
“We had received 540 prison files but the process took longer than we anticipated leading to some of those targeted leaving the prison after completing their sentences.
Eventually we were left with 205 files in which 98 inmates were considered for Community Service Order, 19 were to be placed on probation due to special conditions like medical grounds while nine were to be released unconditionally,” she told the press.
The ceremony finally moved to the Machakos Children Rescue center where the pardoned inmates joined prison staff and other government officers in planting 1,050 tree seedlings to commemorate the auspicious event.
Others who were present during the occasion were Machakos Women Prison Commander, Elizabeth K. Sivi and Machakos High Court Deputy Registrar, Kenei Kipchumba among others.
Kenya’s 118 prison facilities currently hold approximately 55,359 inmates against the recommended capacity of 27,000.
By Samuel Maina