The number of women in prison globally has risen at an alarming rate due to their increased involvement in crime. According to the Kenya Economic Survey (2019), there was a 25% increase in convicted women offenders in Kenya between 2017 to 2018. Evidence suggests that women’s incarceration is linked to patriarchal structures, economic dependence and a lack of education. 

Women represent a small proportion of the prison population and as such are often invisible in intervention policies and programmes designed to support offenders whilst in prison and once released. Without access to gender-specific services and interventions, including education, skills training, mental and physical healthcare, and support to maintain parental and familial roles, there is an increased likelihood of recidivism and re-incarceration amongst women offenders. 

Benson Mwangi Njongoro headshot

Benson Mwangi Njongoro

In September 2023, Commonwealth Alumnus Benson Mwangi Njongoro delivered a workshop in Nairobi to raise awareness of the challenges faced by women during and post-imprisonment, and improve their access to existing services and reintegration programmes. 

Benson is the co-founder of Spark for Hope into Action, a charitable organisation supporting current and ex-prisoners to reintegrate and resettle successfully in their communities.  

The activity promotes the 2023/24 ACEF theme, Gender and Sexuality. 

Spotlighting the needs of women offenders 

Benson organised a one-day workshop to spotlight the gender-sensitive needs of women offenders and address the barriers and stigma they face. The workshop brought together over 200 participants, including women offenders serving community service orders, former women offenders, family members of offenders, local authority officials, prison officers, police officers, lawyers, community service providers, and activists. The event programme included topical discussions led by experts in the field of human rights and criminal justice. 

Fellow co-founder of Spark for Hope into Action, Joan Naburuki, an advocate of the High Court of Kenya, opened the workshop with the session, ‘Women’s pathways into prison in Kenya’. Drawing on her legal expertise, Joan underlined the circumstances leading women to commit offences, including substance abuse, gender-based violence, a lack of education, and unemployment. 

Benson called on the need for police officials to better incorporate and promote existing intervention programmes in prison services to help women offenders prepare for life post-prison during their incarceration. He also urged probation officers and community members to support women offenders to secure jobs and housing. 

Elaborating on available services, Boniface Muindu, Director of Probation and Aftercare Services, highlighted the availability of halfway houses and care services for women offenders with children below the age of 18 years. He stressed that these children could be placed under care until their mother’s release, after which they could access support to be re-united with their children and family through trained social workers.  

Building a supportive community 

In the second part of the workshop, Brenda Amunga, Human Rights Officer and Advocate of High Court of Kenya, spoke about the international and national legal framework on the rights of women prisoners and encouraged women to seek pro bono legal support and services.  

Jackson Kibunja, Senior Police Officer, National Police Service Kenya, encouraged women to steer away from crime to reduce recidivism and promote public safety. He also requested police officers to support women and help address stigma and discrimination.   

The last talk was delivered by Mercy Kinyanjui, Gender and Children Protection Officer, Crest Crime and Justice Consultants. She shared the welfare challenges experienced by the children of women offenders and discussed the services available. Mercy provided police officers with guidance on the treatment of women and children in prisons, as stated in the Kenya Prison Act and other relevant legal frameworks.  

At the end of the workshop, speakers and participants engaged in a Q&A session.  

Scaling up 

Following the workshop, participants reported increased knowledge on the topics discussed and omen in the justice system shared that they are now aware of the community services available to them. 

I wish I had access to this important information before and during my incarceration period. My children would not have been left alone to survive while I was in prison. I am grateful now for this workshop and feel that I can now seek help from institutions offering reintegration services. I want to desist from crime and change my life. Participant

Feedback shared by officials and service providers also indicated increased awareness and motivation to promote reintegration services to women offenders.   

“I feel well equipped as a probation officer to advocate for the rights of women prisoners whom I interact with in my line of duty. They need to be accorded the necessary support which this workshop has covered for them to successfully reintegrate. I would champion this in my workplace.”

Following the success of the workshop, Benson has scaled his efforts and delivered a similar workshop advocating for the needs and welfare of female offenders below the age of 16 years at Kenya’s only girl offenders’ borstal, the Kamae Girls Borstal Institution. This activity was attended Kamae Borstal staff, young female offenders, KCA [full name] University staff, and KCA criminology students. 

Benson hopes that through his charity he can organise a nationwide campaign next year.  

Beson Mwangi Njongoro is a 2019 Commonwealth Shared Scholar from Kenya. He completed an MA in Criminology and Criminal Justice from Keele University.