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Warders imprisoned by their system

NAIROBI, September 3 – Shame: That is what Marsden Madoka feels when he flips through the report of a committee that he led to probe the state of Kenya’s prisons.

He isn’t ashamed about the work his team carried out. No, in fact he’ll tell you that it is one of his most treasured accomplishments; a step to make a real difference in society.

Yet his face cringes, and for a moment I suspect he may not be feeling too well. 

“It’s disgusting. Completely disgusting!” he says.

“The place is a mess: a family of four sharing a single room made of corrugated iron sheets. The floor is an earth floor, no cement. Nothing,” he says eyes sunken.

At best stood a double-decker bed in one corner and plastic sheeting drawn across the room to designate what is supposed to be a kitchen, he adds. The toilet and bath were communal and some distance away.

“There were running sewers. There really wasn’t any basic sanitation.”

Housing was the main concern for warders who staged a protest early this year and almost grounded operations in nearly all prisons countrywide.

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Madoka said investigations further revealed severe understaffing: one warder to about nine inmates, almost double the United Nations recommended ratio of 1:5.

But perhaps of greater concern, he said, was a complete breakdown of discipline within the Prisons Service, where corruption thrives.

Case in point, the prisons’ home industries: “You’d find that the money that came from the industries simply cannot be accounted for. There are farms, they are selling crops but when you ask them where the money is, it can’t be accounted for.”

Warders informed the Madoka taskforce that certain prison officials, (quite senior in command), had literally turned the industries that were meant to operate as a revolving fund, into a personal business.

The rot is so deep-rooted, according to some warders, to the extent that former senior officers are rearing cattle in the prison farms.

“So you see a good head of cattle but only four or five really belong to the prison,” he explains.

The Madoka taskforce identified a number of institutional weaknesses that may have led to the problem.

“The Prison’s Act contains provisions for a Standing Council that should be chaired by the Home Affairs Permanent Secretary, Commissioner of Prisons and even representatives of waders. It is supposed to review the welfare of warders but it has never been constituted.”

“But even without it, the Officer in Charge is supposed to visit the prisons under his command. Surely then, such a thing would not have happened!” Madoka stressed.

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A host of recommendations were presented to Kalonzo Musyoka, the Vice President and Minister for Home Affairs.

Top on their list was for the Kenya Anti Corruption Commission to probe the accounts of the prisons industries and have officers who led the prison strike investigated and charged with mutiny.

The panel also wants relevant authorities to make definite recommendations on the fate of death row inmates.

Madoka says the Commission on the Prerogative of Mercy should speedily advise the President whether to condemn death row convicts or to downgrade their sentences to life imprisonment.

The death sentence has not been executed in over two decades and those on that list “just sit around all day doing nothing.”

The Madoka inquiry also called on the Judiciary to avoid custodial sentences on petty offences.

“There are certain offences where police should be given the discretion to issue a warning. You get some small domestic problems where a girlfriend has stolen money from her boyfriend: she’s going to be locked up. They should find a system to reconcile them,” he explained.

Madoka has expressed confidence that their recommendations would be implemented.

“We’ve made recommendations that uniforms must be purchased. I know money has been set aside and they have now gone out to tender. I know something is happening. I know the funds are being made available,” he concluded.

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