Children serving jail terms: Improve child care centres in prisons

By , People Daily Digital
Thursday, January 13th, 2022 07:15 | 2 mins read
Children who have accompanied their mothers in prison do some chores. Photo/PD/ROSE MUTHONI

Prison life in Kenya is difficult for adults; for some it is unbearable. Now picture a child living in these conditions yet having not committed any crime. 

From the mental status of the mother and the structure of the prison system, children serving jail terms with their mothers do not get the care they deserve when growing up.

Besides lack of this care, prison environment is not conducive for a child. 

Experts have indicated numerous impacts of this, including poor development due to lack of critical resources needed for a child’s formative year and stigma for being associated with a ‘criminal’ as their mothers are considered. 

It is, therefore, imperative that the government restructures prison set-up to accommodate mothers in jail and their children.

That the country has only 10 women’s prisons with childcare centres is a pity, as the young ones do not get what they need to grow and develop.

For those that have such centres, ensuring that resources needed are given priority for children to enjoy their formative years should be a top priority. 

It is commendable that the age a child is reintegrated into society was reduced from seven to four to cushion them from adverse effects of jail.

However, more needs to be done to ensure the reintegration is smooth as there are a number of challenges as children try to cope with an out-of-prison environment which may result in trauma, confusion and other issues that might dog them well into adulthood. 

Experts recommend that reintegration starts early for the child to acclimatise with the environment they will be living in once they leave prison. 

Importantly, matching the types of crime to their punishment must be reconsidered so that mothers and their children do not end up in prison because of the former’s petty crimes.

Other alternatives such as community service must be considered to avoid situations where prisons breed new criminals.

But on a large scale, a national policy on providing a nurturing environment for children in prison should be given priority.

It should include more than just funds, medication and food; there must be an overall improvement in the general prison system. 

Issues of overcrowding and unsanitary conditions must be addressed for the wellbeing of all prisoners, both women and men.

Indeed, confined children must enjoy every available opportunity similar to those living at home for a just society.