Death row prisoners least educated, poor – survey

Wednesday, January 25th, 2023 01:24 | By
Prisoners under lock and key. Photo/PD/FILE
Prisoners. Photo/PD/FILE

Majority of prisoners facing the death sentence in Kenya are neither educated nor economically empowered, a survey by Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) has revealed.

The study shows that more than one in every 10 prisoners sentenced to death had never received formal education while only 33 per cent of them had completed primary school.

Also, 79 per cent of the prisoners were not permanently employed and they lived below Kenya’s minimum wage despite 89 per cent of them being main providers to their families.

And while the inmates had dependents who relied on them for provisions, some of them felt abandoned once they were sent to face the hangman. The research reveals that the majority of them lost the support they enjoyed from partners, children, friends and even parents.

The report dubbed: “Living with a Death sentence” shows friends, siblings and parents were the most unsupportive people after the prisoners were sentenced to death with 37 per cent of the death sentence prisoners losing the support of their friends while 15 per cent lost the support of their siblings.

While 16 per cent of the participants felt their parents still supported them despite their crimes, 15 per cent felt they lost the support of this key figure in their lives.

Fifty six per cent of prisoners facing the death sentence were convicted on robbery with violence charges while 45 per cent of were sentenced on murder charges.


But while the majority of prisoners on death row committed the crimes for financial gain, 95 per cent of those convicted due to robbery with violence were not aware that such crime was punishable by death.

Of the prisoners, 85 per cent of them thought chances of being arrested were very minimal while 89 per cent did not see the possibility of being imprisoned, let alone being sentenced to death.

Two-thirds of those who committed murder said they were driven by sadness, anger and fear, half of them had not anticipated the killings while 19 per cent said they killed in self-defence.

The research further shows that the majority of prisoners facing death sentences are from the Kikuyu, Luo and Luhya communities with the least being those from Maasai and Marakwet communities.

Kenya is estimated to have more than 600 prisoners on death row.

However, the number of those on death row had been high until in recent years when their sentences were commuted to life imprisonment.

Section 71 of the Constitution provides that no person shall be deprived of his life intentionally save in execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence under the law of Kenya of which he has been convicted.

In December 2017, the Supreme Court declared the mandatory death penalty unconstitutional. It however only declared the mandatory death penalty as set out in section 204 (murder) of the Penal code as unconstitutional.

The petition was only in challenge of Section 204 of the Penal Code – which prescribes the punishment for murder – and the Court’s directions were limited to murder cases only.

This implies that the declaration did not interfere with the validity of the discretionary death sentence contemplated under Article 26(3) of the Constitution of Kenya.

Egregious crimes

There has been concerted global lobbying for the abolition of capital punishment.

This is evidenced by, among other things, the passage of the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Aiming at the Abolition of the Death Penalty and a similar move being made by other regional entities such as the EU through its Protocols No 6 and 13 to the EU Convention on Human Rights.

According to the KNCHR, Sierra Leone became the latest and the 23rd African country to abolish the death penalty.

Only four countries in Africa – Botswana, Egypt, South Sudan and Somalia – have carried out executions in the last one year.

An earlier survey conducted by KNCHR revealed that more Kenyans support death sentence for more egregious crimes like murder, treason, rape of a child and armed robbery.

The KNCHR had in 2021 commissioned Prof Carolyn Hoyle, the Director of Death Penalty Research Unit at the University of Oxford, to undertake research in order to provide accurate data on attitudes towards the death penalty in Kenya.

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