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KENYA: Jailing petty offenders congests prisons, lobby group says

 By NJERI MBUGUA and SAMUEL KISIKA A rights group has decried congestion in Kenyan prisons attributed to frequent arrests and jailing of minor offenders.

The Network of African National Human Rights (NANHRI) Institutions on Tuesday said fines and short period jail terms imposed on the poor over petty offences is discriminatory.

The network listed loitering, prostitution, hawking, being drunk and disorderly or causing a public nuisance as some of the punishable minor crimes.

Others are minor traffic offences, disobedience to parents, begging and being vagabond (a wanderer due to homelessness ) are some of punishable minor crimes included in Kenya and various African countries’ criminal offences and the penal code systems.

The accused persons upon judgement are jailed with an alternative of paying a fine.

In a statement, NANHRI executive director Gilbert Sebihogo said reviewing such offences in Kenya would reduce congestion in prisons and human rights violations against poor and vulnerable people.

Read; Murang’a prison severely congested, families asked to bail petty offenders

“In Kenya for instance, a hawker is slapped with a fine of up to Sh3,200 or a term of six months upon conviction. For a poor and vulnerable hawker, the fine or sentence are discriminatory on their status and violates their economic, social, and cultural rights,” Sebihogo said.

Chief Justice David Maraga early this year also raised concern over the high number of poor people who are arrested and jailed over minor crimes such as lack of business licenses, being drunk and disorderly, and creating disturbances compared to the rich committing serious crimes.

Maraga who spoke in January while launching the Committee on Criminal Justice Reforms decried the low rate of prosecuting serious offences where he noted that organised crime and capital offences have the highest rate of acquittals and withdrawals compared to sexual offences that had attracted a guilty verdict at five per cent.

“This obviously means that along the way, freedom is procured at the expense of justice. This is something that controverts the very essence of our existence as the custodians of justice,” the CJ said.

The latest statistics from the International Center for Prisons show that approximately 119 facilities in Kenya had an occupancy of 220.7 per cent as of August 2016.

The Criminal Justice Report indicates that 28,768 petty charges were prosecuted in 15 courts in the 2013-14 financial year compared to 18,058 serious crimes that were prosecuted in the same period.

“As the umbrella body of National Human Rights Institutions in Africa, our aim is to ensure that petty offences do not lead to prison sentences. This would give the judicial and security systems more time to process the backlog of serious crimes, which are coincidentally delayed,” Sebihogo said.

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Photo Credits: Star Newspaper

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