Joseph Karanja - Pioneer and Free Man
Joseph Karanja has spent 20 years in prison. He was arrested in 2000 and sentenced to death at his trial in 2001. However, in 2009 he was one of 4,000 prisoners whose death sentences were commuted to life imprisonment by Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki.
Since then Joseph has spent his time at Kamiti Maximum Security Prison studying the law. Alongside his legal studies he received paralegal training and served as the Chief Registrar of Paralegals within the prison. He was one of nine Kenyan students graduating with a Bachelor of Law degree [LLB] from the University of London 2018.
“Attaining a law degree makes me feel competitive enough to face the world. My daughter, feels like I have set the pace for her and my family is proud of me.”
As a paralegal Joseph made an unlikely application to the Chief Magistrate of Machakos Law Courts to permit him to act as an intermediary for three inmates. Surprisingly, the court accepted his application and Joseph was able to stand before the court, providing their legal representation. This resulted in the release of one of his clients with the other two receiving reduced sentences.
And then it was his turn.
A Chance of Freedom
In 2018 Joseph made an application under Article 50 (6) of the constitution with new and compelling evidence which applied to his sentencing. Later this was amended to a resentencing petition. On 10th January 2020 he was able to argue his case and was released unconditionally after serving 20 years behind.
It was the moment of a lifetime. He was received at our Kenya Office that afternoon. We later escorted him to his village in Githunguri where his dad welcomed him home.
Read more of Joseph’s story and the pioneering role he played in starting a law school behind bars:
“When I first started the programme as a common diploma student, we had no teachers (within the prison) and we didn’t know how to prepare for exams in order to properly tackle exam questions. It was very hard to study but with commitment, I made it.”
Become a Changemaker
Joseph Karanja featured in an interview with the BBC in 2013 in which he shared the impact the paralegals were having, “Lifer Joseph Karanja, who heads the paralegals at Kamiti, says that in the first nine months since the training, his team won 120 appeals. This is confirmed by prison officer Senior Sergeant Benson Ngui, who adds that, prior to the training, he would have expected no more than one or two successful appeals in a year.”
Find out how you can become a changemaker like Joseph, providing access to justice for those who need it most: support our work.