Probation services functions in Kenya help reduce congestion

Clement Okech of the Probation and After Care Service Kenya gave an overview of Probation Service in Kenya at the African Correctional Service Association conference in Kampala, Uganda.

Mr Okech noted that the solutions to decongesting prisons lie outside prisons. Since 1946 have been options outside prison in Kenya in the form of the Probation Service. The Probation Service in Kenya is a distinct entity with its own budget and administrative structures. It consists of 650 professional probation officers manning all courts in Kenya. In addition there are 300 volunteer probation officers providing auxiliary services. The Service has 18 field offices in all 47 counties of Kenya.  The Probation Service helps courts make informed decisions on sentencing, reagrding the protection of victims, on bail, and provides penal release assessment. It also makes community service placements.

Kenya experiences a serious problem of prison congestion. Although prisons only have a capacity of 22000, prisons are currently at 240% occupancy at 53000, of whom 38% are pretrial, up from 31% in 2010 but down from 39% in 2009.

Kenya Prison Composition

Consequently there is a need for alternatives to imprisonment. There are a range of alternatives available in Kenya. These include orders for probation, since 1946; community service orders, since 1999; supervision in 'Borstal' schools for young offenders; supervision; and parole. Parole is theoretically available when an inmate is three months from release and permits the inmate to be released for two weeks on parole before their release. This has never been used but guidelines are now being developed for the provisions to be used.
Other alternative measures include conditional release, fines, compensation, and suspended sentences. 

Some recent figures show that there were 13854 probation orders in 2011, while there were 42555 community service order placements in 2011. The large number of community service orders has however not had the hoped-for effect on congestion because of "net-widening" - many accused who would formerly have received fines are simply been warned are now getting short community service orders of, for example one day.  Community service order peaked in 2006 at 60927 and were at their lowest in 2009 at 35433.

Probation services also provides an after-care service for ex-Borstal inmates, those who have psychological problems and to supervise the reintegration of violent offenders.  There also exist probation hostels, in which persons on probation must sleep at night but are free to go to work during the day. There are also two probation day-care  crime prevention centres in the country.

The Probation and After Care service also provides a bail information programme through which the courts are provided with information regarding the community ties of the accused person.

One of the main challenge is community distrust and misunderstanding. "To deal with these we have adopted a marketing approach," said Mr Okech. "We need to show how effective correctional programmes." One aspect of his has been through radion talk shows. "We also need to engage with policy makers and show the cost benefit of these approaches." For this to work a credible database is required. 

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