Dedicated CLEAR staff Dennis Okore and advocate Peter Onyango braved the afternoon heat last Friday as they waited for permission to enter Kodiaga prison, Kisumu where CLEAR is providing free legal aid to prisoners. CLEAR has been visiting Kodiaga prison each Friday for the past two years, however securing permission to enter the prison is a weekly ordeal.
Kodiaga is one of four maximum security prisons in Kenya, and guards at the prison are rotated many times throughout the day. Although CLEAR has secured clearance from senior prison officials, poor coordination means that these orders rarely reach the prison gates. As a result, CLEAR staff encounter a new guard each week and are interrogated each time they enter.
“It is so discouraging, the challenges we face. The change of guards, the system, the structure, it’s just cumbersome,” said Peter. “There are times when you might go and come back without ever seeing them. But we don’t give up, this is the work and if we don’t do it no one will.”
While the delays are frustrating, senior prison officials are welcoming of CLEAR’s activities and a room has been set aside for legal education. Peter had asked to meet with only 10 prisoners, but over 20 filed into the small room. CLEAR’s weekly visits are a rare opportunity for prisoners to speak with an advocate to receive legal counsel as well as assistance contacting friends and relatives.
“Being a laymen, I thank them. We have a lot of ignorance and we don’t know our rights. Through their advice we are able to bring our cases to trial,” commented a prisoner. “The most important thing is the duration which our cases stay in court. In our constitution we are told that we have a right to an expedient trial. Some of us are here for 4 good years and that duration is too much.”
Remand prisoners may wait months before receiving their time in court, and with repeatedly adjourned hearings, years may pass before they are found innocent or guilty.
One prisoner describes how he was arrested with 27 other men in a police raid 3 months ago. He has committed no crime, but has been ‘bonded to keep peace,’ an open ended charge leveled against anyone authorities find troublesome. He can secure his release by paying a bond of 100,000 shillings, or by finding someone to stand surety on his behalf. With no immediate relations and owning nothing more than his clothes, he cannot afford to post bail and will likely remain in prison indefinitely. Peter has written a letter to the court magistrate asking for the bond price to be reduced and made affordable.
While CLEAR staff try to assist inmates to the best of their abilities – taking on three new cases after this visit alone – the number of cases are too great and resources too few. However, Peter and Dennis will continue visiting the prison in order to bring justice closer to those who have the least access to it.