Over the last decade, the nations of the world have been on an increasing trend of promoting sustainable development across all sectors, including the economies. Humanity has the ability to make development sustainable; sustainable development having the meaning of development that meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Fair and effective criminal justice systems can play a vital role in ensuring a sustainable and inclusive development for all. While amnesties and pardons produce short-term relief, they are not a sustainable solution and can erode public confidence in the criminal justice system. Fair and effective criminal justice systems build trust between people and the State, which is an essential element for a peaceful and inclusive society. Therefore, how does the rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders back into their communities incorporate sustainable and inclusive development for all, thus explore a broader perspective that contributes to the Sustainable Development Goals?

By virtue of goal 16 which promotes peace, justice and the rule of law thus closely linked with access to justice and prison reforms, the Sustainable Development Goals recognize that development efforts are closely linked with the justice sector. Legally binding international human rights conventions, as well as the United Nations standards and norms in crime prevention and criminal justice emphasize the importance of the interventions to support the social reintegration of offenders as a means of preventing further crime and protecting society; all in line with goals 8, 10 and 16, and the Nelson Mandela Rules.

Although the Sustainable Development Goals are not binding, every UN Member State is ‘expected to take ownership and establish a national framework’ for achieving them. Limited consideration has been paid and little data collected so far as on the impact of criminal justice policies on development. The commitment to ‘leave no one behind’ must also include persons in prisons. The correctional system has a much broader role to play that will, if effected, propel the country to realize its potential in achieving the Sustainable development Goals and the goals set out in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

People in prison are overwhelmingly from poor socio-economic backgrounds. According to former Chief Justice David Maraga, key findings of the Audit on the Criminal Justice System confirm that Kenya’s system is largely skewed against the poor. The United Nations Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights recognizes that regulations that penalize behaviours associated with poverty and homelessness often impose fines that persons living in poverty are unable to pay. A more interesting finding was that economic driven and social disturbance offences which are rated petty; such as offences relating to lack of business licenses, being drunk and disorderly and creating disturbance form 70% of cases processed through the system, according to the former Justice. There is also an established nexus between poverty, drug offences and imprisonment; poverty also being a determining factor behind high rates of pre-trial detention. Pre-trial detention infringes access to justice because it impedes the presumption of innocence and the ability of suspects to defend themselves, as shown by evidence produced by the United Nations Economic and Social Council.

Ending hunger, achieving food security and improved nutrition still poses a challenge to States and some penal systems. Many prison systems fail to meet the basic nutritional needs of prisoners and this is not an exception in Kenya. According to the United Nations Department of peacekeeping, a lack of food for prisoners could be attributed to the fact that they are the lowest priority. The State has a duty of care to such persons and ‘even in times of grave economic difficulty, nothing can relieve the State of its responsibility to provide the necessities of life to those whom it has deprived of liberty.’

According to the World Health Organization, there is a higher prevalence of disease, substance dependency and mental illness among prisoners, both as a cause and as a consequence of imprisonment. Sustainable Goal 3 on good health and well-being is difficult to achieve in prison where ‘it is common for the health of prisoners to deteriorate due to inadequate health services, unhealthy conditions and overcrowding.[’ The general health profile of prisoners tends to be comparatively lower than in the community; the overall sanitation coverage in Kenyan prisons being as low as 31%. Ex-prisoners face a large number of problems after release and research seems to suggest that as a result, they de-prioritize their health.

In order to promote goal 8 on decent work and economic growth, offering education and skills in the institutions could go a long way to ensuring these persons’ opportunities for employment are increased. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, social reintegration is more difficult for offenders with poor, basic education and unmarketable skills; these insufficient opportunities make it hard for them to plan a successful return to the community. Ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education as goal 4 is much harder to achieve according to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to education because penal systems fail to identify prisoners with special educational needs; or if provided, education is not usually individualized or skill level appropriate. Learning in prison through educational programs is generally considered to have an impact on recidivism, reintegration and more specifically, employment outcomes upon release. Usually, an overemphasis on safety and security, combined with under-staffing, can lead to prison administrations’ unwillingness to provide access to education and vocational programs.


[1] The World Commission on Environment and Development, Our Common Future (World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987 p. 27)

[2] Olivia Rope & Francis Sheahan, Global Prison Trends 2018 (Penal Reform International & Thailand Institute of Justice 2018)  available at <https://cdn.penalreform.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/PRI_Global-Prison-Trends-2018_EN_WEB> accessed on 22/12/19

[3] Resolution A//RES70/1 adopted by the General Assembly on 25 September 2015. General Assembly adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development that includes the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and their 169 targets.

[4] Vivienne Chin & Yvonne Dadruand, Introductory Handbook on the Prevention of Recidivism and the Social Reintegration of Offenders (Criminal Justice Handbook Series, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime 2018)

[5] United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Offenders, preliminary observation 1 and rule 4

[6] Global Prison Trends 2017 (Penal Reform International & Thailand Institute of Justice 2017) available at <https://www.penalreform.org/resource/global-prison-trends-2017/> accessed on 10/9/20 

[7] National Council on the Administration of Justice, Criminal Justice System in Kenya: An Audit (NCAJ, Legal Resources Foundation Trust& RODI 2016)

[8] ‘Petty Offences are Biased against the Poor’ (International Commission of Jurists) available at <https://icj-kenya.org/news/latest-news/254-petty-offences-are-biased-against-the-poor> accessed on 10/11/20.

[9] Kamau Muthoni, ‘Criminal Justice System favours the rich, State report reveals’ The Standard (Nairobi, 4th Nov 2019) available at <https://www.standardmedia.co.ke/nairobi/articl/2001348026/freedom-for-the-rich-prison-for-the-poor-injustice-in-corridors-of-law> accessed on 10/11/20.

[10] Joseph Muraya, ‘Kenya’s Criminal Justice System Punishes the Poor- CJ Maraga’ (Capital News, 30th march 2017) available at <https://capitalfm.co.ke/news/2017/03/kenyas-criminal-justice-system-punishes-the-poor-cj-maraga/> accessed on 10/11/20.

[11] Dr. Jacqueline C. Korir, ‘Evaluating the Nature of Food Served in Selected Prisons in Kenya’ [2017] 6 (2) African Journal of Hospitality, Tourism and Leisure 1 available at <www.ajhtl.com> accessed on 10/01/20

[12] European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT). CPT Rapport au Gouvernment de la République de Moldova relative à la visite effectuéeen Moldova par le Comité européen pour la prevention de la torture et des peines ou traitments inhumanis ou dégradants, du 10 au 22 juin 2001 [CPT/ Inf (2002) 11 para. 69 & para. 95].

[13] Principle 4 European Prison Rules; Prison conditions that infringe prisoners’ human rights are not justified by lack of resources.

[14] Walter Suntinger & Philipp Meissner, Assessing Compliance with the Nelson Mandela Rules: A Checklist  for Internal Inspection Mechanisms (Criminal Justice Handbook Series, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime 2017)

[15] Trizzah Nyiva Muinde, ‘Prevalence and Risk Factors for Sanitation Related Diseases in Lang’ata Women and Naivasha Maximum Prisons, Kenya’ (Master’s thesis, Kenyatta University 2019)

[16] Vernor Muñoz, The Right to Education of Persons in Detention, (Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to education, United Nations Human Rights Council A/HRC/11/8, 2nd April 2005)




No responses yet

Leave a Reply

Latest Comments

  1. Haha! It could, as well, have been written by him, so many people had the same thoughts, and I am…

  2. Thank you! I am kinda sad that we were unable to keep writing for such a long time. However, we…

May 2024