Teaching Empowerment: Prison Education in Kenya

Nearly half of Kenya’s population of 44 million live below the poverty line and 60 percent of the people in the capital Nairobi live in shanty towns.

Lack of education and opportunity lead to a high level of crime, contributing to Kenya’s prison population of 57,000 inmates, which is more than double the country’s official capacity of 27,000 prisoners.

“I visited prisons all around Africa. I soon saw huge overcrowding, the majority of prisoners were awaiting trial, very few prisoners would ever meet a lawyer,” says Alexander McLean, who started The African Prisons Project (APP) in 2004 to provide education and healthcare for prison inmates.

APP has given me motivation to want to see tomorrow, because I want to make an impact. I feel I’m empowered, and able to bring change in the society. Much more especially, to impact that very person who is in dire need the same way I was.

Wilson Harling Kinyua, inmate

Its aim is to bring immediate improvements to prisoners’ welfare and to create models for rehabilitation.

“Very often, it’s the poorest and least educated who find themselves in prison. And often their lives have been incredibly difficult and they’ve not had opportunities. And their inherent potential and gifts and talents have not been realised during their childhood or their adult life before entering prison,” says McLean.

The project teaches prisoners how to read and write, and once they master literacy and numeracy, APP encourages them to study law, so they can represent themselves in court.

“Many of the prisoners … ended up in prison, because they didn’t even know how to go about their cases, and, of course, basically poverty …” Henry Kisingu, officer in charge of Kamiti Prison says.

APP supports them in gaining legal skills to help fellow inmates and to break the cycle of crime by becoming change agents in the wider community.

They empower men and women in prison with information on their rights and obligations in the justice process, and the prisoners are supported to become peer advocates.

“They are really keen. They want to get as [many] benefits as possible from this programme so that when they leave this place, they are useful to the community. The majority of the teachers are actually fellow inmates, and you can see they are really attentive to them. There is a lot of discipline around, a lot of respect for the teachers,” an officer explains.

In this film, we follow Alexander McLean as he visits Kamiti Maximum Security Prison, Naivasha Maximum Security Prison and Langata Women’s Prison to find out how APP is transforming the lives of Kenyan prisoners.

We talk to inmates about the impact of APP on their lives and interview the wardens to find out what effect the project has had on them. We also hear from a representative of the Kenyan Prison Services about the transformative nature of the programme.