Human Rights Blog

The journey to re integrating ex-prisoners

The journey to re integrating ex-prisoners

Many inmates continue to receive presidential pardon and are released to a society that either rejects them or receives them half-heartedly for fear of being victims for the inmates former crimes. Hence, it is not difficult to find ex-convicts land back into prison, having returned to their former practices, a process legally known as recidivism.

Recidivism refers to the return of an offender to criminal behavior following conviction, diversion, or punishment. This also refers to the act of a person repeating an undesirable behavior after he/she has either experienced negative consequences of that behavior, or has been treated or trained to extinguish that behavior. 

Recidivism is provoked by the offender nor by the sentence imposed, but rather by the difficulties an individual has reintegrating into society, and the ineffectiveness of support mechanisms that are available to him or her. 
The reasons that people reoffend vary and the degree to which any particular factor may cause someone to commit another crime is unclear. Several theories speak to the return to deviant behavior as summarised below; 

Lack of societal support- Offenders, particularly those who have served lengthy sentences in prison, may have difficulty acclimatizing to a world that may be significantly different from the one they previously knew and left behind. Thus, if they lack people to receive them back in the society to assist them adjust to the new norms of an ever-changing society, they may engage in illegal practices in an attempt to satisfy their needs and thus end up re -offending and re -arrested again. 

Incorrigibility of individuals- many people have views to suggest that offenders are beyond reform, and as such, most sanctions, particularly less onerous ones, will not deter them from future offending. It is argued that offenders make a rational choice to commit crimes and will reoffend if they are not punished severely enough. 

Leniency and inappropriate punishments- A faction of society believes that individuals will commit further crimes if their original punishment was inappropriate and did not act as a deterrent. Sentences may be too lenient and fail to make people recognize their wrongdoing. Some sanctions may not be an appropriate match for the type of offense or offender, such as a long term of imprisonment for a first-time, minor offender instead of an alternative measure.

Harsh penalties- Laws that carry harsh penalties send a percentage of Kenyans to jail especially those whose living standards are below one dollar earnings. In such instances, many people opt to stay in jail because of ignorance and the inability to pay the harsh penalties, an example is the Matatu drivers and touts. Harsh penalties can cause offenders to disassociate from societal norms and react criminally.

Lack of commitment to reform programmes by inmates -A program, whether in a prison or as part of parole or probation, will only be effective if offenders participate in it fully. Without a commitment to the goals of the program, people may reoffend. Similarly, if a program is not effective in meeting the needs of offenders, then it may not prevent reoffending. 

While the above may speak to general factors affecting majority of inmates who are released, it is said that specifically, violent criminals are least likely to re-offend. Fewer than half of people convicted of homicide, sexual assault, and rape are convicted of another crime after their release from prison. 

Also playing a key role in recidivism is age of an offender. It is said that the earlier an offender is punished, the more likely he or she is to recidivate. As a result, young offenders are also the most frequent recidivists. 
Gender too has been given special focus as it is said that men are more likely to reoffend than women in nearly every criminal category of offense, even when initial male-dominated offending patterns are taken into account.

However the situation seem to change with current generation as it goes by, the number of women is also increasing while weighing certain types of crime e.g. prostitution, traffic offences etc). Determining why people re-offend and measuring how often they do so can prove to be difficult yet it is a mandatory establishment for actualization of penal reforms that can be possible. Until these issues are rectified or somehow resolved, high cases of recidivism will increasingly continue. 

As part of the steps towards the penal reforms, it would important for government and other stakeholder to strengthen the non-custodial sentences and the harsh penalties imposed by the National Parliament sending a percentage of Kenyans to jail. Also, inmates should be exposed to a well-structured pre-release programme to prepare them for their reintegration into the society.

Further there is need of quick gazette of the sentencing policy to make it effective and also increase the penalty for corruption as part of legislative reform.

Radicalization has permeated our prisons and as such is a key area of concern that deserves to be addressed keenly.  If not carefully addressed as part of the pre-release and other re integration programmes, it may encourage recidivism.

The views shared herein are the writer’s and do not necessarily reflect those of the commission.



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