According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS), there was a 16.7 percent increase in crime reported to the police in 2021 compared to 2020.
The total crime cases reported to law enforcement agencies increased from 69, 645 in 2020 to 81, 272 in 2021, according to the Economic Survey 2022 report by KNBS.
The survey indicates that stealing was the most reported crime, standing at 35.1 percent, as Criminal damage and Dangerous drugs followed by 31.1 percent and 28.3 percent, respectively.
Many justice activists have desired to pave better ways to reduce crime, and civilize society with alternative methods of reducing crime and attaining justice in the communities.
On Thursday, February 16, 2023, a team of 102 community paralegals who are part of the Sheria Mashinani initiative graduated at the Sarakasi Dome in Ngara, Nairobi.
A paralegal, also known as a legal assistant or paralegal specialist, is a professional who performs tasks that require knowledge of legal concepts but not the full expertise of a lawyer licensed to practice law.
The main goal of Sheria Mashinani, a youth safety awareness campaign, is to include young people and citizens in working to reduce crime, antisocial behavior, and abstinence from crime across the nation through education, advocacy, and training.
“Paralegals in Kenya are familiar with local power dynamics and customs, on the one hand, and aware of modern law and formal institutions, on the other. They are able to devise flexible, innovative solutions to justice problems for their communities,” according to Cambridge research.
To keep communities informed and able to obtain assistance when needed, it collaborates with social networks and the general public to provide advisories, crime trends, crime hotspots, and links to law enforcement support lines.
It also manages resource centers in several prisons to create a country that is free from crime and maintains a healthy environment.
In his statement, Peter Ouko, the Founder and Executive Director of Crime Si Poa, noted that paralegal training is really at the core of humanity.
Without the ability to comprehend justice issues and have a certain level of understanding that allows you to defend yourself or ensure that you do not conflict with the law, we are all lost.
“To ensure that society operates in an orderly manner, that people do not infringe upon the rights of others, and even if they do, that those whose rights have been infringed upon will know where to go and get recourse, this is the most fundamental initiative that one can think of,” he explained.
Senior Counsel Wilfred Nderitu, the Board Chair, Crime Si Poa, and who represented Justice Isaac Lenaola of the Supreme Court of Kenya, urged the graduating paralegal team to remember to live up to equitable social justice as a lifestyle.
He told them that the training is more about transforming the lives of the communities around them rather than just getting a certificate and putting it on display elsewhere.
“Justice Warriors will not sit back and watch things fall apart then turn around and blame others. They will identify the problem and help fix it at the earliest opportunity. They will use the knowledge skills, and networks they have learnt and built during their training to make the justice system better for all,” said Justice Lenaola in his speech, read by SC Nderitu, during the graduation.
About Sheria Mashinani
The program started in 2017, some years later after the founding of the Crime Si Poa initiative in 2012.
For the recent graduates, the training started in Mid-January 2023 at the greater Nairobi region and parts of Kiambu and Kajiado counties.
Sheria Mashinani is both an online and physical initiative with an online platform where people can access and ask questions to any lawyers they want to, at www.sheriamashinani.org, where you can ask legal questions and get answers.
They are working towards having an application and a USSD so that any Kenyan can access justice no matter where they are.
Besides Nairobi and Vihiga counties, physical training was also provided in Kisumu, and they look forward to expanding to other parts of the country.
The trainees for the paralegal program were handpicked by their neighbors in their areas of residence.
This means that the impact will be felt immediately because the community now knows who to turn to for a better understanding of the legal system and how it operates.
The organization has just completed the shortlisting of candidates so that they can go back and serve at the local level.
They are known as “Justice Warriors” because of their leadership and community mobilization training, making them the best leaders to ensure that laws are better understood and that they stand as justice figures.
The Sheria Mashinani Initiative trains community paralegals and prisoners to intervene in societal concerns effectively.
The team was well equipped with how to report to the nearest police stations and further ahead on how to follow up with court proceedings.
Beyond the legalities of case reporting, they were also taught how to solve disputes that can get out-of-court resolutions.
In an interview with Scholar Media Africa, the graduates also emphasized that using violence is never a good idea and that there are other peaceful ways for community members to get by daily.
They raised concerns in particular for the unemployed youths who are prey to robbery gangs seeking to make quick cash, saying that if they all banded together to promote peace in the local communities, we could move closer to creating a fruitful society.
Silvia Morwabe, the Program Director of Crime Si Poa, organizes community awareness events, supervises paralegal training, and educates the public about the law.
Their firm belief is that communities are better positioned to demand justice and accountability at all levels of government, which in turn helps many people access justice and lowers the rate of crime in the nation.
Communities exhibiting a better understanding of the law after the training and education sessions through the program are regarded as adding to the team’s success.
“The most excellent way to reach out when you need to empower this group of individuals regarding justice is by choosing a team of youth leaders who are extremely passionate about helping their communities because they are the focal point and have in-depth knowledge of the area with good networks,” she explained.
According to Morwabe, someone who lacks access to a lawyer and is unsure of how to navigate the legal system will at least now have a sister, neighbor, or another family nearby they may freely contact for advice on how to handle legal matters and find a solution.
Communities are constructed on thorough organic foundations of the laws, customs, social system, and legal framework they can use in the form of the judicial system to resolve conflicts among themselves.
Communities that are well-informed about the law are better able to demand fairness, accountability, and effective remedies at all levels, which helps to lower crime and ultimately eradicate it.
The communities now look up to them as justice warriors because they are the voices of the weak, champions, and defenders of justice.
They are expected to speak up for individuals who have been wrongfully accused and to prevent families from being torn apart by injustices.
Crime Si Poa is excited to start training another cohort after this one, which will be announced after preparations are complete, but they are always looking forward to training a cohort each quarter of the year.
For the first time, they taught the largest cohort they have ever had from five different regions in and around Nairobi, including Ruiru and Thika.
For Crime Si Poa to be available to the community once the training is finished, they must first determine where the need is and how to reach out to the community.
Halima Guyo, a Project Officer in Kajiado County and one of the trainees, joined the program to understand the laws better and learn how to defend her community, which is still severely afflicted by both female genital mutilation and gender-based violence.
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Her goal is to represent the local residents who can’t speak for themselves because the majority of the community still avoids such topics.
To some, the journey always starts with being paralegals and ends with being judges, so it’s just a step into the long journey ahead.