The case of the introduction of anklets to decongest prisons

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The case of the introduction of anklets to decongest prisons


Inmates at Naivasha Maximum Security Prison. PICTURES | MACHARIA MWANGI | NMG

A few days ago, the Institute of Economic Affairs published an interesting research article by Leo Kemboi and Jackline Kagume which talks about the constitutional argument, public financial management and social justice for the introduction of electronic monitoring of prisoners using ankle bracelets to decongest our facilities.

This is an article that should be of interest to people in the criminal justice field, particularly the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

For starters, KNBS data shows that there are more unsentenced prisoners each year than sentenced prisoners. Data from the Department of Prisons also shows that the number of people incarcerated nationwide is almost double the capacity of these facilities.

For any economist, you easily point to an existing negative externality here, basically the manager not bearing the cost of actions. Similar negative externalities are common in many criminal jurisdictions, the most pronounced being in the United States and Israel.

Back in Kenya, the negative externality stems from the fact that the responsibilities of pre-trial detention, prison congestion as well as the release of bail from the defendants lie neither with the police nor with the prosecutors.

The burden of pretrial detention and prison congestion is borne by the state through the Department of Prisons, while the burden of raising bail falls on individuals, providing little incentive for prosecutors to use prisons wisely.

Data shows that there have been an increasing number of defendants in jail for minor offenses and most are failing to raise funds to facilitate bail and cash bail.

For female prisoners, approximately 60% are in prison for alcohol-related offences. The informal sector of the alcohol market has the highest participation of women and is subject to severe criminal penalties.

Furthermore, the majority of crimes reported in Kenya are those for which the penal code prescribes sentences ranging from less than one year to three years, commonly referred to as misdemeanors or misdemeanors.

So clearly there is a problem in our criminal justice system. Now, there are a number of proposals for how these negative externalities in the criminal justice system can be addressed.

The first would be to cap prison capacity. This means limiting the number of inmates in a facility to help reduce the incentive to use prisons wisely.

The second would be to introduce electronic monitoring through ankle bracelets, as the research paper proposes. Thus, the research is based on data from 2016 to 2021 simulating that if 25% of unconvicted prisoners wore anklets, the overall prison population would decrease by an average of 16%.

If half of all unconvicted prisoners wore the anklets, the total number of prisons would decrease by almost 29%. If at least 75% of unsentenced inmates wore ankle bracelets, the total prison population would decrease by 47%.

The United States was the first country to require a parole offender to wear an ankle bracelet to monitor their behavior in 1983 in an effort to cut costs and increase the efficiency of corrections.

Other countries have taken it up such as the UK where prison overcrowding was seen as a problem (the average prison population was 49,000, which is 7,000 more than certified normal accommodation and 2,000 more than the previous year) that could only be solved by electronic monitoring.

So far, many countries have embraced electronic monitoring and its time, Kenya is opening up its criminal justice space for such experiments.

Research establishes that the state spends an average of 270 shillings a day just to feed each of the 55,000 prisoners and such prison reforms would save Kenya more than $5.5 billion used annually to feed prisoners. And therein lies the compromise to induce the state to consider the proposal.

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