Providing Psycho-Social Support in Kenya Prisons

When Crime Si Poa kicked off the mental health program early this year at the Kisumu Maximum Prison the reception was quite warm, with little hesitation from inmates to open up during the sessions. Inmates, however, became more interactive and found it easier to air their issues with time. 

According to Evans Ndigili, Welfare Officer, Kisumu Maximum Prison, positive responses from the inmates that include attitude and behaviour change are being recorded in the prison.  

“Thank you to Crime Si Poa for offering psycho-social support to inmates, especially through mentorship and counselling sessions. More than ever, hope and positivity can be seen among inmates enrolled in the program compared to before,” said Brian.

The mental health sessions address various issues affecting inmates. The sessions equip them with knowledge and tactics to handle stressors that come with imprisonment. The reformation program will run for one year in 8 prisons across the country hence will help ensure a successful rehabilitation process.

Eric, one of the 72 inmates fortunate to participate in the reformation program divulged how the sessions have helped him find mental peace.

“The topic on intrapersonal conflict is what brought me out of the hole I was in. I was overburdened with bitter thoughts and regrets. It was hard for me to come to terms with what my life has become,” shared Eric

Through the sessions, Eric, a former police officer turned convict, was able to share what was causing those emotions and ultimately address the issue. He was convicted of murdering his wife due to infidelity issues.

“I was an administrative police officer who was extremely reserved. I never used to open up about issues that were affecting me. I know now that If I had spoken out more I wouldn’t be here.” he expressed. 

Eric now embraces the art of sharing as he chooses to accept his fate and trust that no problem is permanent, hoping one day he will be out of the dungeons and speaking out against crime.

John (not his real name for safety purposes) is another beneficiary of the program who has learned how to avoid conflict through effective communication. He was convicted due to a crime he committed over an escalated conflict at home.  John was accused by his family of murdering his cousin who died under mysterious circumstances. According to John his threats to kill his deceased cousin, for allegedly killing his father, turned against him and led his family to accuse him of the murder.

“If I knew what I know now I would probably not be here. My mantra is to listen, digest, and then respond. “I have learned to be more patient with both the prison guards and other inmates as well,” said John. 

Having been incarcerated due to a home conflict that turned sour, John understands how a small misunderstanding can easily lead one to gallows. He is currently working on appealing his case.

Research has shown that psychological trauma faced by inmates while in prison highly influences their rehabilitation process negatively. Providing psycho-social support to inmates, is, therefore, a key element in addressing cases of suicide, reducing the rates of re-offending, and promoting successful reintegration into the community.

“Counselling Helped me Overcome my Rape Ordeal in Prison” 

At first glance, one can not tell what Fredrick (not his real name), an inmate at one of the prisons we work in, has been through. His blooming face and happy demeanour do not reflect in any way the physical and psychological trauma he’s fought to overcome rape ordeal the prison. 

Incarcerated at the young age of 19 years, Fredrick was in no way prepared for what awaited on the other side. His first encounter in prison almost threw him off the edge. As soon as he stepped into the prison, Fredrick became a target for the older inmates because of his young age.  

“I contemplated committing suicide multiple times. Something wrong was done to me. They put medicine in my porridge, made me dress like a woman, and raped me. I was later taken to hospital for treatment,” painfully revealed Fredrick. 

With such few words, he disclosed a harrowing experience that can never be erased from his mind. Fredrick revealed. From the first minutes of sharing his story, it was clear that he was still stigmatized from the experience.

“The incident messed up my mind. I didn’t understand why it happened to me. In my sorrow, I decided to lean on a friend and that was the best decision I ever made. It took continuous encouragement from the friend for me to heal from the trauma. I remember he kept repeating these words “It was not your fault, the abuse was not your fault,” sorrowful narrated Fredrick.

According to Fredrick, his experience taught him how opening up can lead one to the path of healing and inspired him to counsel other young inmates. Through counselling sessions, he began speaking to encourage and give other victims of sexual harassment hope. He also approaches new young inmates to help prevent the same ordeal from happening to them. 

“Despite my counsel, some young inmates, unfortunately, get trapped to sodomy. Some as innocent victims others enter into it of their own volition. Mainly to get better treatment, better food, and other benefits,” lamented Abisai.  

Fredrick has been conducting peer-to-peer counselling for the past six years and has helped some inmates desist from engaging in sodomy for material gain and many of the young inmates who were victimized to find peace. 

“Despite the efforts we put in, not all heed the counsel given. Unfortunately, we have cases of 3 people, who contracted HIV Aids and died which was very unfortunate,” he added.

According to Fredrick, reform programs like the one conducted by Crime Si Poa help reach out to more individuals who would never give him an ear. 

“There are people through mentorship offered by Crime Si Poa who have desisted from engaging in sodomy. Through this program I hope to expand my knowledge and skills to reach out to more inmates,” He concluded.

Vivian Mukumu, a partner psychologist in the CSP prisons outreach project (phoenix), disclosed that victims of sexual assault in prison are usually looked upon as being unmanly because they couldn’t defend themselves. This destroys their self-esteem and often drives them into depression causing them to withdraw from others. 

“It is difficult for such victims to cope after such a traumatic experience. They often require continuous psychological sessions to develop their self-esteem and learn coping skills to help them fully function again” Vivian explained.  

Mentorship sessions conducted in prisons often only reach a fraction of the prison population. To ensure other inmates also benefit from the program peer to peer counselling is key. People like Abisai play an important role in inspiring change in prisons.

Scaling Up Engagement in Kenyan Prisons to cut recidivism

Mentorship at Nakuru Main Prison

In the last 2-months Crime Si Poa (CSP) has expanded its psychoeducation services to eight (8) prisons in Nakuru, Kisumu, and Nairobi cities in Kenya. This is an intervention to mental health disorders and recidivism among incarcerated youth in the country. 

The services initiated under the Phoenix Programme not only enable the organization to meet the need for psycho- support in Kenyan prisons but also help promote the overall wellness of inmates and equip them with profitable skills that will make them self-sustainable, subsequently helping ease their reintegration process.

According to Flavier Mwika, CSP Phoenix Programme Officer, the prison outreach program has been received with much excitement from both inmates and the prison officers who look forward to the upcoming mentorship sessions. 

“Initially I thought there would be little interest in our activities, especially among prison wardens. To my surprise, the community gave us a great reception and they have been so supportive to the program,” said Flavier, adding “Due to the impact created among inmates through psychoeducation services, officers have also requested for social support service since they are also facing issues related to mental health due to their nature of work.” 

The program is currently being implemented in Nakuru Main Prison, Nakuru Women’s Prison, Kisumu Women’s Prison, Kisumu Maximum Prison, Kibos Prison, Nairobi West Prison, Langata Remand, and Langata Women’s Prison in Kenya. 


The initiative entails mentorship sessions conducted by trained psychologists, spiritual sessions done by partner church organizations, and skills training sessions conducted by Crime Si Poa youth groups on the ground.

“We have partnered with psychologists who have agreed to volunteer in conducting sessions to create awareness on the importance of nurturing a healthy mental state. The program has also involved churches in the three cities willing to offer spiritual services to the inmates,” confirmed Flavier. 

Inmates have shown a positive attitude toward the activities. They have expressed interest in having counseling services. They have also trained other inmates who do not get a chance to participate in these activities. 

Paul Kibisu, one of the inmates at Kisumu Maximum Prison, is a jubilant person who has largely benefited from the program especially the social enterprise aspect of it through learning skills on bead making and soap making. 

“Inmates are just like any other person; we are not enemies. CSP should engage us in more activities that will prevent us from relapsing and going back to crime again. Someone regarded to be evil or bad can change and be of great impact on society. Some of us are prisoners due to crimes we committed out of peer pressure, bad influence, poor background, and lack of guidance,” said Kibisu. 

In the sessions held so far, the CSP team has noted that the majority of prisons in Kenya lack guidance and counseling departments. The few prisons that do have these departments, don’t have the capacity to make them active.

“Mental health continues to be an emerging issue in Kenya, especially among inmates, who are extremely vulnerable. The lack of psycho support in the prisons, increases the gravity of the issue, with cases of suicide, depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder on the rise hence the reason why we saw the need to expand this program,” concluded Flavier.