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G4S opens talks to run Kenya’s prison services

Inmates at Kamiti Maximum Prison during a graduation ceremony on december 20, 2010 where they were awarded certificates in hair dressing and beauty care from Unity College, Nairobi. Photo/ANTHONY OMUYA
Inmates at Kamiti Maximum Prison during a graduation ceremony on December 20, 2010 where they were awarded certificates in hair dressing and beauty care from Unity College, Nairobi. Photo/ANTHONY OMUYA  

The government is holding talks with private security company G4S with a view to privatising some prison services, a move that could change the face of Kenya’s correctional centres.

“The response from the government concerning G4S being a partner in prison reforms and other outsourcing work has been positive,” said G4S global CEO Nick Buckles.

The company is also bidding for electronic monitoring of prisoners under house arrest, where they are tagged with a gadget that sends signals once the prisoner leaves a restricted area.

At a reception hosted by British High Commissioner Bob Macaire for G4S senior global executives, Internal Security minister George Saitoti said the government was “open” to working with the firm.

Officials from the Home Affairs ministry, which is responsible for prisons, were not available for comment.

It was not clear whether the government will do competitive bidding for outsourced prison services or will single source.

G4S already manages prisons in six countries across the world, said Mr Buckles.

In Africa, it manages a prison with the capacity for 2,500 prisoners in Bloemfontein, South Africa.

“Kenya is likely to be our next country in Africa to offer such services,” he said.

If the deal goes through, G4S will set up its own prison services infrastructure, the company said.

“Ours will be real correctional services,” said the company’s deputy MD for Kenya Jack Muchira.

G4S runs several immigration prisons in the UK. Last October, the company’s guards were accused of causing the death of Jimmy Mubenga, on a British Airways flight to Angola, during forced deportation.

Last April, a 40-year-old unnamed Kenyan detainee died at Oakington detention centre, near Cambridge, which is run by G4S.

The man was said to have been denied medical attention despite complaining of feeling unwell and asking for medicine.

G4S has also been having troubles in ist cash-in-transit services in Kenya where rogue employees disappeared with money or stage-managed robberies.

Prison reform analysts said a privatised prison system is worth a trial in Kenya, to find out if it will lead to improved management of prisons including provision of better housing, food and respect for human rights.

“We should try one and see how it works,” said Fatma Dullo, a prison reforms expert with the Kenya National Human Rights Commission.

Kenyan prisons were once described by a High Court judge as “death chambers” because of existing inhuman conditions.

The consequence has been that instead of them being the correctional centres they are meant to be, the conditions lead to hardening of criminals.

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