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Improving Security in Kenyan Prisons by enhancing the Relationships between Prisoners and Prison Staff  

GMCP - Dynamic Security in Kenyan PrisonsNairobi, 10 August 2021 - When we think about high security prisons, we often visualize fences, watchtowers, steel barriers, CCTV cameras and strict procedures to ensure a stable environment that prevents prison breaks and violence among prisoners. Although physical and procedural security measures are indispensable, they are not sufficient in themselves. There is another set of skills, much more subjective, that allow staff to build a better awareness on the security dynamics of the prison. 

Dynamic security entails the development by the staff of positive relationships with prisoners based on firmness and fairness, in combination with an understanding of their personal situation and any risk posed by individual prisoners. This approach is slowly transforming the previous perception that prison is considered as a punitive institution into what is regarded as a rehabilitation centre.

“In many prisons, you can observe a distance between staff and prisoners based on a harsh discipline relationship. Dynamic security is about being aware of what is going on in the prison and in order to do that, you need to nurture a good relationship with the prisoners, treat them with dignity, be present and available to communicate, offer them purposeful activities and demonstrate how they can benefit from a good relationship with the staff”, explains Matthias Karlsson, UNODC Prison Advisor. 

UNODC and Kenyan Prison Service (KPS) have been working together since 2017, to train prison staff in dynamic security in five stations: Shimo La Tewa complex (male, female and juvenile institutions), Kamiti Maximum Security Prison and Langata Women’s Prison. The trainings are based on enhancing staff’s professionalism and its capacities to collect relevant information, to improve social climate of the prison and to understand the personal situation of the prisoner. The core principle is to perform every duty in accordance to UNSMR (United Nation Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners – the Mandela Rules) and human rights principles, respecting the dignity of the prisoner. 

“If an incident occurs, responding through violence should be a last resort. It is important for the staff to learn how to remain calm and negotiate, addressing the prisoner’s negative behaviour and understanding what is behind it. The key to deal with such situations is to see the person, not just the prisoner, and be aware of their individual contexts, moods and temperaments. Coaching the prisoners and giving them examples of positive behaviours shows that you are actively interested in them. It is certainly a long process, that requires consistency, but it brings about positive results both for the prisoner and for the staff”, says Karlsson.   

If implemented successfully, dynamic security allows prisoners to feel comfortable when approaching prison staff before a situation escalates. This relationship enables staff to anticipate and better prepare themselves to respond effectively to any incident that may threaten the security of the prison and the safety of staff and prisoners.

“Positive and professional relationships between staff and prisoners have enabled a conducive environment for security information gathering into actionable intelligence useful to deter, detect, disrupt and prevent illegal activities within the prisons.” explains Peter Kugomba, prison constable working in Security Information Reporting office in Shimo La Tewa Maximum Security Prison.

Currently, more than 300 officers were trained through UNDOC’s dynamic security trainings. UNODC also mentored highly capable officers in each institution to perform periodical dynamic security trainings to their colleagues. This team is called Trained Trainers and they are allowed to train new trainers, providing autonomy and continuity to the project, while still counting with the feedback from UNODC consultants in every training. Kugomba is part of this team, standing as one of the top 12 trainers in Dynamic Security.

“A projected increase in the number of both senior and junior officers trained in dynamic security have significantly affected the working environment in Kenya’s prisons today. The adoption of human rights-based approaches such the Mandela Rules have further transformed the current treatment of offenders in regard to the dignity of mankind”, Kugomba continues.  

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