Human Rights Issues
International human rights standards acknowledge the unique vulnerability of prisoners to abuse and afford special protections to them. Unfortunately, human rights standards are too often ignored or breached in Kenyan jails.
Several distinct but inter-related human rights concepts are particularly relevant to the treatment of prisoners with mental illness: human dignity, the right to rehabilitation, the right to the highest attainable standard of health, and the right to freedom from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment:
PRISONS PSYCHOSOCIAL SUPPORT PROGRAM
In 2007, World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that there are 450 million people worldwide suffer from mental or behavioral Disorders. In Kenya, the Ministry of Health in 2016 estimated that 12% of Kenyans will suffer from a mental disorder at some point in their lifetime.
These disorders are especially prevalent in prison populations. The disproportionately high rate of mental disorders in prisons is related to several factors:
1. the widespread misconception that all people with mental disorders are a danger to the public;
2. the general intolerance of many societies to difficult or disturbing behavior;
3. the failure to promote treatment, care and rehabilitation, and,
4. above all, the lack of, or poor access to, mental health services.
Many of these disorders may be present before admission to prison, and may be further exacerbated by the stress of imprisonment. However, mental disorders may also develop during imprisonment itself as a consequence of prevailing conditions and also possibly due to torture or other human rights violations.
According to World Prisons Briefs, Kenya has a prison population of approximately 57,000 with an occupancy rate of 202%. Prisons are notorious for poor living conditions, human right abuses and poor basic health care services. Besides, prison experience is neither normal nor natural, and constitutes one of the more degrading experiences a person can endure.
Prolonged adaptation to the deprivations and frustrations of prison life commonly referred to as the "pains of imprisonment" carries a certain psychological cost. This ongoing climate of trauma can create anxiety, depression, phobias, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in prisoners who previously had no serious mental health issues.
Sadly, prisons do not have a well-functioning psychological support program nor a psychiatry unit. While most prisoners are ultimately released, the psychological problems they develop in prison (that never was properly addressed) can increase their risk of reoffending and make it harder to reintegrate in the society as a productive, law abiding citizen.
Some develop conditions that ultimately affect their physical and psychological health leading to dire consequences. A case in point is PDO Vice Chairman who passed on 3rd February 2017 Mr. Nyau Fahad Ogutu (who inspired this project) after a long battle with PTSD and a heart condition which started 17 years earlier, while in prison.
Studies show that up to 70% of people who have been incarcerated are arrested again within three years, and the dire state of mental health care in prisons plays a significant role in this high rate of reoffending.
However, in our prisons, inmates are not the only one suffering from mental health neglect. Whereas our society occasionally talks about prisoners’ welfare, not much is heard about problems being faced by the prison staff.
Prison warders suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder at more than double the rate of military veterans, according to a US study. The found that 34% of corrections officers suffer from PTSD. This compares to 14% of military veterans.
World Health Organization (WHO) advocates for training on mental health and psychological support for prison staff at all levels. It states that such training increases awareness of the mental disorders, makes the staff adhere to human rights, reduces suicidal attempts by inmates, and helps the prison staff to get over stigmatizing attitudes.
This becomes a catalyst for improved mental health of both staff and inmates. If we want prisoners treated well, their handlers must be equipped with the capacity to do their work satisfactorily.
This includes providing regular psychological trauma debriefing for warders and psychosocial support to the prisoners. Prisoners’ welfare and warders’ welfare are not mutually exclusive.
What can be done
The detection, prevention and proper treatment of mental disorders, together with the promotion of good mental health for inmates and prison staff, is an important public health goal.
It is true that our prisons need help to deal with mental health issues for both the inmates and the Warders. That is why PDO found it important to use expertise at our disposal to improve the mental health and psychological well-being of inmates and prison staff, including extending counselling services to inmates families back home to ensure smooth transition and reintegration of inmates upon release.
As a society, we should not stigmatize and isolate our brother and sisters who are in prison as most of them reform and become responsible citizens - with proper support. They need the society’s support to reintegrate back into the society as they recover from the “psychological cost” of being incarcerated.
Project Goal and Objectives
The main goal of this project it to enhance rehabilitation and social integration of prisoners through psychological support to inmates and their families back home, and prison staff.
Objectives of the project