News August 04, 2018 at 10:00 am

African prisons are slowly becoming true correctional facilities as prisoners are becoming lawyers

Mildred Europa Taylor | Head of Content

Mildred Europa Taylor August 04, 2018 at 10:00 am

August 04, 2018 at 10:00 am | News

In Uganda and Kenya, more than 60 prisoners and prison staff have been able to study law --- African Prisons Project

The criminal justice system in Africa is increasingly helping the incarcerated and successfully rehabilitating them into society rather than harming them.

Prisoners are being equipped to come out and change their societies and countries as a whole.

This has been made possible by the African Prisons Project (APP), a charity founded in 2007 by a then-law student, now UK barrister, Alexander McLean to improve education and healthcare in prisons in East Africa.

APP has equipped people to come out and change their societies and countries as a whole — African Prisons Project

He got the motivation to set up the charity after helping to treat a group of prisoners from Luzira Upper Prison in Uganda while volunteering at a hospital and had observed how many mortally ill patients from the prison had been left to die.

In Uganda and Kenya, more than 60 prisoners and prison staff have benefitted from this project, as they have been able to study law through the International Programme of the University of London, with which the organisation is partnered.

“Our students have been involved in several Supreme Court cases, including one which resulted in the abolition of the mandatory death sentence in Uganda,” McLean recently stated.

McLean inspects beadwork made by an inmate in Luzira prison, Kampala — The Telegraph

Further clarifying why he decided to provide these legal support services, McLean said: “Prisons are filled with poor people who have often had limited access to quality legal services. We have been asking ourselves: would the world be different if those who’ve experienced conflict with the law became lawyers?

“How would it be if the poor accessed the same quality of legal services as the rich? Would our prisons be less full? Would our nations be more just? Now, we train prisoners and prison staff to become lawyers.”

Due to lack of resources and matters of security, a major tool for their law studies, that is the internet, is restricted.

Hence APP hires part-time tutors to teach in the prisons while helping the students to do their research and providing them with other necessary materials.

Some inmates in class — africanprisons.org

Since many prisons lack basic classroom facilities, classes are usually conducted in open environments or under a tree even though students are sometimes allowed to use administration offices for their classes.

The East African community is expected to witness an increased number of prisoners coming out as lawyers, as the APP announced last year that it will be establishing a law college in a prison in Kenya.

The college, which will open in Kenya in 2020, will be the first of its kind and is expected to provide legal services to at least 10,000 people in prison, leading to the release of an estimated 4000 prisoners, according to media reports.

As these inmates receive this legal education, it is expected that they would use the knowledge gain to help their fellow inmates.

Participants in the programme have also reportedly provided 50,000 hours of legal counselling to 5,000 prisoners and have succeeded in getting 3,000 prisoners out of jail via bail or dismissed cases.

Susan graduating with a Diploma in Law — African Prisons Project

Apart from overturning sentences for 77 inmates, participants have been able to reverse about seven death sentences and freed four people from death row, including APP’s first female law student and death row prisoner Susan Kigula who studied law and changed Uganda’s legal system when she walked free in 2016.

In effect, many prisoners who are denied a fair trial simply because of issues of poverty that prevent them from getting legal support can now get the needed support, thanks to the APP. They would also come back home better reformed.

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