Why private prisons are not the answer

“It establishes the Kenya Prisons Enterprise Corporation, a State Corporation, which is mandated to expand the scope of the prisons work programs with the aim of unlocking the revenue potential of the prisons industry and ultimately turn it into a reformative and financially self-sustaining entity.” 

You don’t have to be a genius to figure out that the country is really struggling with its finances. Between the Uhuru Chinyatta debt memes (apparently the post Uhuru period will be Post Ma-Loan) and the increased taxes on everything, the states flailing financial state has had far reaching effects that everyone has felt in someway or the other.

So when Mr. Freedom decided to sign the Kenya Prisons Enterprise Corporation Order Of 2018 one can almost see where his pressure is coming from. Having announced his Big four agenda for his second term (the legacy run), private prisons kill two birds with one stone. They can count as job creation, plus the increased supply of (almost free) labour for can help in the steps towards industrialization.

“Many of us have had the police arrest us at spots on the road they have deliberately set up to shake us up for bribes. We have been arrested for merely being out at night. We have had the police accept bribes of KES 500 – 1000 from matatu drivers who have no business being on the roads, with no regard for the 14 – 48 people who may be in the matatu. They have allowed sexual harassers and assaulters to get away scot free even when they could have done something. The police have also been known to mete out brutality against those they believe are lesser than; those whose pain they think they can get away with causing; whose lives they consider disposable.” 

Police Brutality in Kenya

It’s difficult to imagine that private prison systems will work better here than in most places, especially given our affinity for corruption (haki ya mungu – itaisha). And it has been proven that private prisons increase the likelihood of incarceration and of higher sentences for pettier offences. And we know (because we know) that the burden of this need will fall on the marginalized in the society. We know that these extra arrests will come for reasons such as looking at a building suspiciously with intent to litter.

“If private prisons make their profit from criminal society, its goes against business sense to reduce criminality.”

The Problem with Privatising Prisons

The argument against private prisons is not a new one, creating a profit incentive for prisoners creates a demand for this labour and demands must be met. According to most news sources the Kenya Prisons Enterprise Corporation will be wholly state owned – maybe that means that they will be as deliberately bad at their job as most state offices but betting on inefficiency seems like a losing struggle. Especially when it comes to managing 86 prison farms with over 18000 acres of land.

Before the establishment of this corporation the Kenya Prisons Farms Fund and the Kenya Prison Enterprise fund handled the production and sale processes. According to a press release from the PSCU

“The two funds will be merged to ensure the new Corporations operated under a typical business model purposely to spur economic growth in the Prisons Department”

So state corporation or not profit is emphasized. And any good company that needs profit must find labour – this cannot be said enough. The creation of private prisons creates a need for prisoners.

Even as we wonder how we’re going to pay off the close to one trillion shillings that we owe the Chinese we must ask ourselves – just how much money will private prisons make/save the state, at what cost and is it really worth it? Then again, that might be asking for good ideas and, as we’ve seen, all we can really get from this government is tough talk.

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