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how many prisons are in kenya

16 Jun 2023, Prisons, by

Discover the number of prisons in Kenya with our comprehensive guide.

how many prisons are in kenya - Inmate Lookup

Kenya is a country in East Africa with a population of over 50 million people. Like many countries, it has a prison system designed to house individuals who have broken the law. In this article, we will explore the various aspects of the Kenyan prison system, including the number of prisons in the country and their current condition.

The history of prisons in Kenya

The history of Kenyan prisons dates back to the colonial era when the country was under British rule. During this time, prisons were used as a tool for punishment and control. The colonial government used prisons to house political prisoners who opposed colonization and resisted British rule.

After colonialism, the new independent Kenyan government took over the administration of prisons. However, little has changed in the way prisons operate. Today, Kenya’s prison system is characterized by inhumane conditions, inadequate rehabilitation programs, and high levels of overcrowding.

Despite efforts to reform the prison system, the situation remains dire. Overcrowding is a major issue, with some prisons holding up to three times their capacity. This has led to poor sanitation, lack of access to medical care, and increased violence among inmates.

In recent years, there have been calls for alternative forms of punishment and rehabilitation, such as community service and restorative justice. However, these ideas have yet to be fully implemented, and the Kenyan prison system continues to face significant challenges.

The role of prisons in the criminal justice system

The primary role of prisons in the criminal justice system is to punish convicted criminals by removing them from society. Prisons are also designed to deter other members of society from committing crimes by making the punishment for such acts clear and severe.

However, the Kenyan prison system has failed in its role, with overcrowding being a significant issue. Prisons in Kenya are often at twice their capacity, causing detrimental effects on the well-being and rehabilitation of the prisoners.

Moreover, the lack of resources and funding for the Kenyan prison system has resulted in poor living conditions for the inmates. Many prisons lack basic necessities such as clean water, proper sanitation, and adequate medical care. This not only violates the human rights of the prisoners but also hinders their chances of successful rehabilitation and reintegration into society.

Efforts are being made to reform the Kenyan prison system, including the construction of new facilities and the implementation of alternative sentencing programs. However, much more needs to be done to address the systemic issues and improve the effectiveness of the criminal justice system in Kenya.

Types of prisons in Kenya

Prisons in Kenya are classified into different categories based on their security level. The categories include maximum security prisons, medium security prisons, minimum security prisons, and open-air prisons.

Maximum security prisons are designed to hold dangerous criminals, while minimum security prisons are meant for convicts who pose a low risk to society. Open-air prisons, on the other hand, are used for short-term sentences and are often located close to the prisoners’ homes to allow them to attend to their daily activities.

Medium security prisons are designed to hold inmates who have committed serious crimes but are not considered to be as dangerous as those in maximum security prisons. These prisons have more relaxed security measures compared to maximum security prisons, but still have armed guards and high walls to prevent escape.

In addition to the different security levels, prisons in Kenya also have different facilities and programs to help inmates rehabilitate and reintegrate into society. Some prisons offer vocational training programs, education programs, and counseling services to help inmates acquire skills and knowledge that can help them secure employment after their release.

The conditions of Kenyan prisons

The conditions of Kenyan prisons have long been a subject of international concern. The prisons are characterized by overcrowding, inadequate medical care, poor sanitation, and insufficient food. These conditions have contributed to the high levels of morbidity and mortality among prisoners.

The lack of adequate rehabilitation programs in the Kenyan prison system makes it difficult for convicts to reintegrate back into society, leading to high recidivism rates.

Furthermore, reports have shown that corruption and bribery are rampant within the Kenyan prison system, leading to unfair treatment of prisoners and a lack of accountability for prison officials. This has resulted in a lack of trust in the justice system and a feeling of hopelessness among prisoners.

In recent years, there have been efforts to improve the conditions of Kenyan prisons, including the construction of new facilities and the implementation of rehabilitation programs. However, progress has been slow and there is still much work to be done to ensure that prisoners are treated humanely and given the opportunity to successfully reintegrate into society.

The capacity of Kenyan prisons

Kenyans prison system is designed to hold around 25,000 prisoners. However, the current population of prisons in Kenya is estimated to be around 50,000, indicating that the capacity of the prison system is overstretched. The overpopulation of prisons contributes to the inhumane conditions and inadequate resources in the system.

One of the main reasons for the high number of prisoners in Kenya is the slow pace of the justice system. Many prisoners are held in remand for years without trial, leading to overcrowding in the prisons. Additionally, the lack of alternative sentencing options means that many offenders are sent to prison even for minor offenses, further exacerbating the problem.

The overpopulation of prisons in Kenya also has a negative impact on the health of prisoners. The close proximity of inmates increases the risk of the spread of diseases such as tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. The lack of adequate medical facilities and personnel in the prisons also means that many prisoners do not receive the necessary medical attention, leading to further health complications.

Overcrowding in Kenyan prisons

Overcrowding in Kenyan prisons is a severe issue, with an average occupancy rate of about 200%. Overcrowding puts a significant strain on resources and leads to the poor living conditions in prisons.

It also contributes to the lack of access to medical care, inadequate housing, and leads to the spread of diseases. In turn, this hampers the rehabilitation process and increases the likelihood of criminal activity after release.

The issue of overcrowding in Kenyan prisons is not a new one. It has been a persistent problem for many years, and despite efforts to address it, the situation remains dire. The government has attempted to build new prisons and expand existing ones, but these efforts have not been enough to keep up with the growing number of inmates.

Furthermore, overcrowding in Kenyan prisons has also led to an increase in violence and unrest among inmates. With limited space and resources, tensions can quickly escalate, leading to fights and other forms of violence. This not only puts inmates at risk but also endangers the lives of prison staff.

Rehabilitation programs in Kenyan prisons

Kenyan prisons’ rehabilitation programs are relatively insufficient compared to international standards. The lack of adequate resources and the implementation of outdated methods make it impossible for prisoners to achieve a full rehabilitation process.

Kenyan prisons have limited access to vocational training programs, education, and mental health services. Thus prisoners are left to their own devices to develop the skills necessary to succeed outside prison.

However, there are some efforts being made to improve the rehabilitation programs in Kenyan prisons. Non-governmental organizations and volunteers are working to provide vocational training and education programs to prisoners. These programs aim to equip prisoners with skills that will help them secure employment and reintegrate into society upon their release.

The impact of COVID-19 on Kenyan prisons

COVID-19 has brought unique challenges to the Kenyan prison system. Prisons are overcrowded, and social distancing is near impossible to implement. Consequently, it becomes difficult to manage the spread of diseases.

The inadequate medical care and specialized equipment needed to deal with the pandemic means the prisoners are at a higher risk of infection. As at March 2021, over 1500 inmates and 79 officers have contracted the virus in Kenya’s prisons.

Furthermore, the pandemic has also affected the mental health of prisoners. The restrictions on visitation and movement have led to increased isolation and anxiety among inmates. The lack of access to counseling and therapy services has also worsened the situation. The Kenyan government has acknowledged the need to address the mental health of prisoners during this pandemic and has taken steps to provide tele-counseling services to inmates.

The cost of running Kenyan prisons

According to the Kenya Penal Reform, it costs the government around KSH 2.4 billion to keep the prisons open. The allocation of funds for the prison system is still insufficient to provide necessary resources, such as food, medical care, and rehabilitation programs.

The large sum of money spent on the prisons should be channeled into more effective interventions to reduce crime and recidivism rates.

Furthermore, the overcrowding in Kenyan prisons is a major issue that needs to be addressed. The current capacity of the prisons is 34,000 inmates, but the actual number of prisoners is over 50,000. This leads to poor living conditions, increased violence, and the spread of diseases. The government needs to invest in alternative sentencing options, such as community service and probation, to reduce the number of people in prisons and improve the overall conditions for those who are incarcerated.

International perspectives on Kenyan prisons

International organizations such as the United Nations and Amnesty International have expressed concern over the state of Kenyan prisons. They are calling for the government to prioritize prison reforms, increase funding for the prison system, and improve prison conditions and prisoner treatment.

According to a report by Human Rights Watch, Kenyan prisons are overcrowded, with some facilities holding up to three times their capacity. This has led to poor sanitation, lack of access to healthcare, and increased violence among prisoners. In addition, pre-trial detainees often spend years in prison awaiting trial, due to a slow and inefficient justice system. These issues have led to a high rate of illness and death among prisoners, as well as human rights violations.

Comparing the number of prisoners in Kenya to other African countries

Kenya has one of the highest imprisonment rates in Africa. According to the Institute for Security Studies, the number of prisoners in Kenya has doubled over the last decade from 18,000 in 2010 to over 50,000 in 2020.

This is an alarming trend that calls for the government to review its crime and punishment policies and find alternative ways to reduce crime rates while reducing pressure on the prison system.

When compared to other African countries, Kenya’s imprisonment rate is significantly higher. For instance, South Africa, which has the second-highest imprisonment rate in Africa, has a rate of 334 prisoners per 100,000 people, while Kenya’s rate is 310 prisoners per 100,000 people.

Furthermore, the majority of prisoners in Kenya are pre-trial detainees, meaning they have not been convicted of any crime. This is a major issue as it leads to overcrowding in prisons and denies individuals their right to a fair trial.

The relationship between poverty and imprisonment in Kenya

The majority of inmates in Kenyan prisons come from poor socio-economic backgrounds. Many have turned to crime as a means of survival, and the absence of welfare systems has forced them into life-threatening criminal activities.

The Kenyan government needs to tackle poverty and inequality to reduce the number of people ending up in prison unjustly.

Challenges facing the management and administration of Kenyan prisons

Challenges facing the management and administration of Kenyan prisons, other than the resource gap and overcrowding, includes lack of unity among stakeholders and corruption amongst others in the justice system.

The government needs to take an active role in tackling these challenges by implementing policies that consider the various stakeholders and political goodwill and backing the system needs uphold the rule of law and promote justice and fairness.

Reforms needed to improve the prison system in Kenya

Prison system reform needs to prioritize rehabilitation programs, increasing access to vocational training and education, enhancing medical care, and improving living conditions for prisoners. Implementing these reforms will lead to the reduction in the number of people in prisons and effective rehabilitation measures leading to fewer recidivism cases.


In conclusion, the Kenyan prison system needs significant reforms. The system is overcrowded, underfunded, and inefficient. The Kenyan government has a responsibility to prioritize funding and resource-prioritizing measures such as reducing recidivism rates and meaningful rehabilitation and keeping the prison system under-populated to ensure the safety of inmates.

By implementing these measures, the Kenyan prison system can become an effective tool for crime reduction and offender rehabilitation, serving the country as intended under the justice system.