Inmates and the Prisons Department are locked in a court row over pay with the prisoners pushing for an increase on the Sh0.20 daily salary and prompt payment.
The wages were last reviewed in 1979 despite a sharp rise in the cost of living.
The inmates who include Aloise Onyango Otieno, Nicholas Ouma Obonyo, and Samuel Ng’ondo said the Commissioner General of Prisons has failed to pay them despite receiving allocations from the Treasury.
Section 5 of the Kenya Prisons Service standing orders provides that the earning rates shall be 20 cents for grade A (prisoners with exemplary conduct and are skilled), 15 cents for grade B (good conduct and semi-skilled), and 10 cents for grade C (prisoner not in grade A or B).
“As it is, prisons earning rates are a provision of the law and the commissioner does not have the mandate to amend, revise or vary the scheme as provided,” the Commissioner General of Prisons states in court papers.
The commissioner says the petitioners are not engaged in a form of employment where remuneration is expected to be fair, hence the claim of slavery and servitude is unfounded and unjustified.
The prison chief maintains that prisoners are required under law to offer labour.
“The objective of prison labour is to equip convicted prisoners with relevant skills and knowledge through training to enable them to reintegrate well into society upon release,” he says.
The commissioner also states that prisoners allege violation of article 30 of the Constitution, which says a person should not be subjected to slavery, yet they are serving sentences following a conviction.
The prisoners say the government has breached their right not to be held in slavery and servitude, adding that they are denied pay.
The commissioner however argues that under the Prisons Rules, 1963, prisoners in grade A and B are paid their earning upon release but the others may spend two thirds of their earnings while in prison.
The inmates say failure to give them essential items like soap, toilet papers, tooth brushes and paste is a violation of their basic rights.
But the commissioner says prisoners can buy the items with the help of relatives.
A ruling will be delivered on March 29.
High food prices and the rising number of inmates have been making it difficult for prisons to meet convicts’ dietary needs.
It’s normal for over 3,000 inmates to share a prison designed for only 800. Prisons hosted 80,404 inmates last year.