The case for introducing ankle bracelets to decongest prisons

Inmates at the Naivasha Maximum Security Prison. FILE PHOTO | MACHARIA MWANGI | NMG

A few days ago the Institute of Economic Affairs published an interesting research paper by Leo Kemboi and Jackline Kagume which talks about the constitutional, public finance management and social justice case for introducing electronic monitoring of prisoners using ankle bracelets to decongest our facilities.

This is a paper that should interest folks in the criminal justice space, more specifically the Office of Director of Public Prosecutions.

To start with, KNBS data shows that there are more unconvicted prisoners annually than convicted inmates. Data from the Prisons Department also shows that the number of persons committed to prisons across the country is nearly double the capacity of these institutions.

For any economist, you easily point out an existing negative externality here, basically the responsible party not bearing the cost of the actions. Similar negative externalities are common in many criminal justice jurisdictions, most pronounced being in the US and Israel.

Back to Kenya, the negative externality arises from the fact that the responsibilities for pre-trial detention, congesting prisons as well raising bail for remandees are not on the police nor the prosecutors.

The burden of pre-trial detention and congestion of prisons is shouldered by the State through Prisons Department whilst the burden of raising bail is on the individuals and this gives prosecutors little incentive to use prisons judiciously.

Data shows that there has been a rising number of remandees in prison for petty crimes and most fail to raise money to facilitate bond and cash bail.

For female prisoners, around 60 per cent are in custody for liquor offences. The informal sector of the alcohol market has the highest participation by women and attracts stringent penal sanctions.

Also, a majority of reported crimes in Kenya are those for which the penal code prescribes sentences ranging from less than one year to three years, commonly referred to as misdemeanour or lesser offences.

So, clearly, there is a problem in our criminal justice setup. Now, there are a number of proposals in how such negative externalities in the criminal justice system can be addressed.

The First would be capping prison capacity. This means limiting the number of prisoners in a facility to help bring back the incentive to use the prisons judiciously.

Second would be introducing electronic monitoring through ankle bracelets as the research paper proposes. So the research is based on data from 2016 to 2021 simulate that if 25 per cent of unconvicted prisoners wore ankle bracelets, the overall prison population would reduce by an average of 16 per cent.

If half of all unconvicted prisoners wore the ankle bracelets, the overall prison numbers would reduce by nearly 29 per cent. If atleast 75 per cent of unconvicted prisons wore ankle bracelets, the overall prison population would reduce by 47 per cent.

US was the first country requiring a parole violator to wear an ankle bracelet to monitor behavior in 1983 as an effort to cut cost and boost efficiency of corrections.

Other countries picked it up like the UK where prison overcrowding was viewed as a problem (average custodial population was 49,000 which was 7,000 more than the certified normal accommodation and 2,000 more than the previous year) that could only be addressed through electronic monitoring.

So far, many countries have adopted to electronic monitoring and its time Kenya opens its criminal justice space for such experiments.

The research establishes that the State spends an average of Sh.270 daily just to feed each of the 55,000 prisoners and such prison reforms would save Kenya more than 5.5 billion used annually to feed prisoners. And there lies the trade-off to incentive the state to look into the proposal.

PAYE Tax Calculator

Note: The results are not exact but very close to the actual.