by Hans Hallundbaek of Presbyterian Mission Agency (USA)
A most relevant highlight of the Pan African CURE conference was a visit to the Naivasha maximum security male prison two hours’ drive into the stunning Rift Valley region of Kenya. Here, less than three miles from beautiful Lake Naivasha, reside more than 2,000 men incarcerated behind 20-foot-high concrete walls. Security is tight and no photography or direct communication was allowed with the inmates lined up in secure distance as the visiting delegation toured various sections of the prison: food preparation, cell blocks, a printing shop, and a carpentry section where inmates learn to build upholstered mahogany furniture for sale to the outside world. To everyone’s delight, and especially the prison population, the visit included the top ministerial secretary for Correctional Services in Kenya, Mary Muthoni Muriuki, who addressed the incarcerated men in an affirming and inspiring speech.
While the conference concluded that prison reform is still an urgent need in many countries, what became clear was the urgent and important need of better treatment of women in prison. The proportion of females in prison compared to men is increasing globally, and in most countries that increase is not reflected in proper attention to the special needs of women in prison and their children.
The Rev. Stanley Chimesya, a Presbyterian prison chaplain from Malawi, struck a chord when he said, “In my country, a prison sentence is often considered a death sentence.” He added that in a women’s prison he serves, it is considered a privilege to have one meal a day and a mat to sleep on.
Horror stories in prison systems span the world, panelists said, from Brazil to Japan, from the Democratic Republic of Congo to China. In Pakistan, children are eligible for the death penalty and in Uganda, execution is back on the books for aggravated homosexuality.
The small African country of Rwanda is facing a special issue caused by the aftereffects of the Rwanda genocide of 1994. Many thousands of long-term prisoners from that era are to be released over the next several years back into a society which is working hard to overcome the still lingering original causes of the massacre almost 30 years ago.
The full press release can be read here alongside other work by the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s work advancing their Mathew 25 mission.