The children and women of Lang’ata high security prison are among society’s most vulnerable. Though Kenya’s justice system is making improvements, it is not uncommon for sentences to be unusually long, nor is it uncommon that women are convicted when they are otherwise innocent, simply because they cannot afford adequate legal counsel. In short, being in prison in Kenya is quite often the result of poverty rather than criminal activity and the children, of course, have done nothing to deserve this life.
Helping these women directly impacts the lives of their children. The more educated a mother and child are, the more likely she will be able to adequately nurture and provide for her child, and the more likely that the cycle of poverty can be broken.
The Mandala Trust, working with the African Prisons Project, provided funding towards a brand new library at Lang’ata Women’s Prison in Nairobi. This first of its kind facility will provide more than six hundred women and children, as well as prison staff and their families, with access to a wealth of relevant educational materials and supported learning opportunities such as book clubs, debates and creative writing. The inmates and staff have described the Library as a place where they can gather and support each other; where they can share knowledge and also share the responsibilities of raising their children. It provides a place where the children can safely play while their mothers are studying and where mothers can read to their children, improving their own and their child’s literacy.
The Lang’ata Women and Children Library was officially opened by the Commissioner General of the Kenya Prison Service, Isaiah Osugo, in 2016, who called it `the best library facility that we have in the country’. These facilities are key to the Life Skills Programme which also includes a Functional Adult Literacy course and vocational training, providing prisoners with the opportunity to enter employment post-release. The library, alongside the training of library assistants, will provide the Lang’ata prison community with a remarkable resource to support access to education.
The library itself will play an invaluable role in seeing prisons in Kenya as places of positive transformation.