By Caroline katana
The Austrian Embassy in partnership with Kituo cha Sheria and the Kenya Prison Service has commissioned a paralegal Justice Centre at Shimo la Tewa women’s maximum prison in Mombasa County.
The paralegal justice center is among the projects in Kenya funded by the Australian Embassy
The center creates a safe space for inmates trained as Paralegals to offer legal advice to other inmates who in most cases are not able to articulate their issues in court.
They will now be equipped with skills and knowledge to understand court procedures and be able to adequately defend themselves in court.
A study shows that some inmates serve prison sentences due to poor representation in courts.
Addressing journalists after the opening ceremony, Australian Ambassador to Kenya Christian Fellner said the center will provide privacy for the paralegals and their clients.
“In order to ensure effective services and confidentiality for inmates, physical
infrastructure was acquired since they experience psychological stress and depression,” said Fellner.
Fellner confirmed that freedom of expression received in the center will avail justice to the women prisoners.
“Prison is not there to punish those who should not be punished, they are not enemies of the society, instead should be treated fairly because they might not have committed crimes but because they fail to defend themselves clearly they found themselves in prison,” noted ambassador Fellner.
Kenya Prison Services Deputy Commissioner General Florence Omundi said access to legal aid or a lawyer is a major challenge facing women prisoners.
“Generally women are marginalised and poor; some of them cannot afford to get even a relative to assist them or afford legal fees. Not many women are economically empowered so this facility brings justice closer to them and addresses marginalization and vulnerability facing women from this region,” she noted.
Kituo cha Sheria executive director Annette Mbogo confirmed the program to be successful as 90 inmates were trained as paralegals between 2019 and 2022. 83 were discharged.
“This program has run since 2007 it started at Shimo la Tewa men’s prison and in 2011 we felt that we needed to extend to women’s prisons and a lot of women have been trained over the years and many leave prison after the training because they have skills and knowledge to defend themselves in court,” she said.
Mbogo said the paralegal justice center program also aims at reducing congestion in Prisons.
“The correctional department is excited about improving this center for the prison so that we are able to jointly promote access to justice and in doing so we are reducing the population in prisons. We all know that the population is very high, in fact, it’s double what the facilities can maintain, so if inmates are released it helps Kenya Prison service decongest the facilities.” She added.
Shanzu principal magistrate Yusuf Abdallah Shikanda said the program will bring speedy resolution of cases in court.
“Most of the time cases in court move with low speed because those appearing to court don’t understand the court proceedings but once they are empowered, they will be free to defend themselves and ensure the court has the right record to avail justice,” said Shikanda.
Mr.Shikanda said this project is among many programs that need to be implemented in other courts in Kenya.