Judge in Mombasa upholds human rights of PWUD through alternative sentencing

Ms Diana Mochache is a magistrate at Shanzu law court in Mombasa, Kenya. She offers people who use drugs (PWUD) an alternative to jail for drug-related crimes. For instance, instead of 6 months in prison for petty crime, she refers PWUD to Muslim Education and Welfare Association (MEWA) for 6 months of detox, rehabilitation or psychosocial support in addressing drug related problems.

Ms Diana Mochache became interested in alternative sentencing when she noticed the same people getting arrested for the same petty (drug related) crimes. In order to address the constant revolving-door of PWUD in her court, Diana became interested in supporting PWUD with harm reduction services. According to Mr Brian Omondi, a lawyer at the courts:

"It just doesn’t make sense to jail someone for a crime worth €20 when it costs €30 a month to keep them in prison."

In response to this problem, Mr Fakru Abdulrahman – a paralegal at MEWA – approached the magistrate to discuss possibilities for alternative sentencing for PWUD. Fakru now attends court each day to identify PWUD and make recommendations so the magistrate can offer alternative sentences. 

Where the PWUD would previously be sentenced to time in prison, they are now offered the alternative of attending detox, rehab, psychosocial support, methadone or support groups at MEWA for a minimum of 6 months. In Diana’s court, women who use drugs are given priority with alternative sentencing and rarely go to prison. Instead, they are referred to support programmes. Their children are frequently put into temporary care elsewhere with the intention of unifying them with their mother once they finish the programme. Diana’s conviction is that “if you can reach one person in a family, you can reach the entire family”.

Ms Mochache:

“What women who use drugs need most right now is economic empowerment. The cycle begins with no income options, so women often go into sex work or find a ‘sponsor’ (i.e. Western boyfriend). The boyfriends are often the ones to introduce the women to drugs, often without the woman being aware. The men will secretly put heroin in the woman’s food or drink, and then once she is dependent on the drugs, he will stop and let her feel the withdrawal. He offers to give her something to help her feel better, and this is heroin. Once the woman feels better, and realises she can’t function without it, she turns to petty crime to support her habit once the boyfriend is finished with her. It’s a downward spiral from there.”

The first 6 PWUD who completed their alternative sentences returned to court to thank the magistrate for her support in referring them to MEWA instead of prison. The magistrate then asked the entire court to applaud these people for their efforts to live a healthier life. To date, alternative sentencing has resulted in 155 PWUD going through the programme and avoiding prison time. Since she’s started referring to MEWA, Diana has also noticed a drop in drug related crime. 

Ms Binti, a fellow magistrate from another region, was present for her first day at Shanzu court and she shared that alternative sentencing is unheard of in any other parts of Kenya. Both magistrates discussed the idea of having a stakeholder peer review or training for heads of station so that Ms Mochache could share some best practices with other magistrates regarding alternative sentencing. Mainline is looking into funding this activity in the near future.

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