Nairobi, 3 October 2016
Today, Penal Reform International (PRI) and the Kenya Probation and Aftercare Service (PAS) publish a research report and short documentary, as partners in a pilot project on women serving community service and probation orders in Kenya.
The research seeks to identify and understand the distinct challenges women face when completing these orders and is the first of its kind globally. As a next step, tools and guidance for probation officers will be adapted in light of the research findings to improve the rehabilitation of women offenders serving respective court orders.
“The Kenya Probation Service is committed to the implementation of the UN Bangkok Rules, the international standard dedicated to women in the criminal justice system, including those serving community service and probation orders”, says Clement Okech, Assistant Director of the Kenya Probation and Aftercare Service.
“This is why we were keen on engaging in this pilot programme with Penal Reform International and we are proud to be pioneering a project that seeks to develop good practice, which can be shared in the region and internationally.”
It is widely recognised that women in conflict with the law have a different profile than male offenders, and that they have specific needs and challenges.
While a prison sentence may be necessary and proportionate in some cases, the majority of women offenders commit minor, non-violent crimes, often linked to poverty. Almost 70% of the women interviewed as part of the study said they had offended to earn money and support their family, and 5 in 6 women had children. Community-based alternatives to prison terms are therefore more appropriate in many cases, and are also beneficial for the children. In 2015, women made up 17% of the 51,604 offenders who served a community service or probation order.
“In most justice systems, including Kenya, women are a minority”, explains Andrea Huber, Policy Director of Penal Reform International, an international NGO specialising in criminal justice and a partner to the Kenyan Probation Service on this project.
“As a result, justice systems are designed for the male majority population and do not take into account the different background and challenges faced by women offenders. Yet, such shortcomings are setting women up to fail.”
The pilot project is funded by the Thailand Institute of Justice, who are committed to supporting the implementation of the UN Bangkok Rules.
“Our findings show some common challenges women face when serving community service. The distance to work stations and the cost of transport to get there have been identified as a common problem”, clarifies Clement Okech. “Many women struggle to sustain their families if the times and length of community service or appointments at the probation office conflict with the times where women can be employed in casual jobs.”
Andrea Huber from PRI describes another common problem women face when serving these court orders: “Women bear the main burden of caretaking obligations, for children but also other family members. It is understandable that they need to plan ahead on who is going to look after their children and the women need some flexibility when their schedule to deliver the non-custodial sanction is set. Also, the nature of the work needs to help the women to gain skills and they need to be safe at the work station.”
Based on the research findings, the report concludes with detailed recommendations, which aim to maximise the potential of non-custodial regimes for women, both in Kenya and internationally.
“The recommendations will now be used to develop measures to make community service and probation orders for women more tailored to their situation and needs”, notes Clement Okech. “This is in the interest of the women concerned, their children and families – and society as a whole.”
“We hope that our pilot in Kenya will provide useful lessons that other countries in the region and internationally can benefit from”, concludes Andrea Huber from Penal Reform International, thanking all institutions and individuals who support the project and in particular the women who shared their experiences in order to inform the report.
Read the report and watch the accompanying short documentary.