Case 3: Skills Development and Economic Empowerment for Women in Prison

Challenge Many women involved with the criminal justice system receive short-term sentences and some move through this cycle several times. Lack of employment or income security and low levels of education and skills were identified by participants as factors in this cycle of custodial sentences. For younger women and girls, there is poor reintegration back to the society for example into schools or education programmes after a custodial sentence. Many women are involved in petty crimes and financial insecurity is often worsened after being in custody for any length of time, which pulls women back into re-offending upon release. There is limited development of support networks and friendships in prison due to varied perceptions over incarceration and tribal backgrounds, and some tribes and families have a culture of shunning women after release from prison, which can lead to homelessness, absence from children’s lives and further issues of crime and violence victimisation. P-BLD participants identified that whilst women are in custody, it is an opportunity to help them to change their mindsets about their lives and their opportunities, and to challenge their perceptions about tribal boundaries and violence.
Because what I have found in Nakuru because it is a town with different tribes you find that the level of violence is very high. In most cases you find that once there are tribal clashes it starts in Nakuru. They fight one another. Sometimes you find that they even have boundaries but once we can make it to change different people from different tribes, we’ll break these boundaries.
A programme of skills development was put in place those short-term sentences (six months and below), including detergent-making, baking and basic finance management to support personal income and running small businesses. Whilst employability and income generation were the focus of these sessions, they also provided an opportunity for counselling, emotional support and encouraging positive thinking about the future.
‘Especially those in welfare section and education. I’ve been able to share [the learning] with them…in fact I have even trained them about what I’ve been doing about these prisoners, some even I send them out. I tell them I have a certain problem and this prisoner has told me you come from their [tribe] or home place, can you please go and look for the family for me and they have been doing it.’
‘We have songs from different languages. As I have told you we are over 44 tribes so we have all these songs. We’ll play them.’
‘Once they are released back to the society, I take that initiative to go and tell the society, “Please welcome this person. Please support this person, she’s not a bad person. She has reformed. She has been trained in this and that so she can earn life only what she need it is love, acceptance.” I have seen it working.
P-BLD played an important role in the development of this work in a prison, through giving the prison officer participant and her colleagues the knowledge and skills to do things differently and to extend her mandate beyond the core requirements of the prison officer job. Through engaging with the concept of ‘place’, recognising that everybody plays a part in every sector, a clarity of ambition and goal emerged to make a difference to women’s lives.
‘I didn’t know that I have something until somebody came and ignited whatever was in me so that I can be able to use it. Before that I never used to do such things. Before that I was there for work, for payment not for impact. I was there for payment and… I’m supposed to be at work from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. When my time is over I go back to the house without touching anyone’s life. But from that time [P-BLD module] I make sure every day even though I’m not reconciling them to the family [for example] I’ll counsel someone for the better.’
For the women in this prison, they developed skills and confidence that enabled some of them to become financially more stable upon release from prison. Stories included women who were reconciled with their families, who were able to avoid returning to commercial sex work and who felt empowered to rebuild their lives. Beyond specific outcomes for women, the enthusiasm and motivation to help women and to contribute to making Nakuru a better place through supporting inmates beyond their release caught the attention and engagement of other prison officers internally, other prisons in the wider county and partner agencies. Creating awareness of these activities across other agencies has improved perceptions of the potential for prisons to impact society and better engagement across sectors
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