"In my 15 years of service, I have not heard or seen about anything like this"

"In my 15 years of service in the health sector, I have not seen or heard about anything like this. Because of APP, we are here today, in the same room with the Resident Judge for the Lango Sub Region, the Prisons Administration, the Police, Health and Local Government officials, all in one room. A multi sectoral approach is key to success. APP has brought us all on board and we request that the project be rolled out to all Districts in Uganda so we can speak one language on access to justice and healthcare for prisoners…” Egwang Martin, Senior Nursing Officer, Apac Health Centre, Apac District.

On Wednesday, 31st August 2016, leaders within Lango Sub Region’s Justice Law and Order Sector, District Health and Local Government Officials  gathered at the Gracious Palace Hotel, in Lira District in Northern Uganda to celebrate successes under APP’s Access to Justice and Healthcare project in Oyam and Apac Districts in Mid Northern Uganda. The meeting was also used as an opportunity to review the second draft of a Toolkit that we’re developing for our Prison Human Rights Advocates (PHRAs), providing them with an educational resource and the basis for a replicable model to providing basic human rights to prisoners across Africa.

Hosted by the African Prisons Project with support from the Independent Development Fund (IDF), this event was attended by 43 participants led by the Honourable Justice Dr. Winfred Nabisinde, the Resident Judge for the Lango Sub Region as the Chief Guest. She was accompanied by the Regional Prisons Commander, Mr. Masiga Patrick, the Magistrates, the District Police and Prisons Commanders, the District Health Officers, State Attorneys, Officers in Charge of the prisons in the two Districts and selected PHRAs and Prison Village Health Teams (PVHTs) trained by APP.

Running from September 2015 until December 2016, the second phase of ‘the promotion of the Rights to Access to Justice & Healthcare for Prisoners’ being implemented in Apac and Oyam Districts in Northern Uganda has succeeded, amongst other achievements, in supporting the release 731 prisoners in less than a year after securing bail, having their cases dismissed for lack of prosecution or resolved out of court while others received non-custodial sentences, with the support of the PHRAs. 862 prisoners and family members of prison staff have received direct support from the PVHTs who have facilitated their referral to the health centres.

Access to justice initiatives in Uganda are driven by an understanding within the Justice, Law & Order sector (JLOS), an umbrella organisation comprising public and private institutions, that the current 234% overcrowding ratio in Uganda’s two hundred and fifty prisons will only be reduced through innovative thinking and partnership.

During the event the Chief Guest, Justice Nabisinde led the participants in reviewing the second draft of the Toolkit for PHRAs, and applauded APP for this unique event and for its mission and vision that focuses on prisoners whose existence normally deserves no celebration. The participants were open and shared their views on the content of the Toolkit with many commenting about the rich and comprehensive content. The Toolkit once finalised and launched in November 2016, will be used as an invaluable resource for the PHRAs and other officers in Uganda’s prisons, in providing legal advice and support to the poorest and often most vulnerable who are unable to afford a lawyer to provide the much needed legal support. Its impact however goes beyond the prison walls.

“This is a comprehensive document. The first draft has been my reference point during the legal education sessions I carry out every Sunday on radio. I am able to educate the public on the legal process and how they can support their loved ones in prison.” Mr. Geoffrey Ogwang, District Prisons Commander, Apac District.

“Since we have a legal document, let this be a source of legal knowledge to our people and to ourselves” Egwang Martin, Senior Nursing Officer, Apac Health Centre, Apac District.

“With this Toolkit, you cannot go wrong. PHRAs will have a sense of direction in their work” Mr Masiga Patrick, Regional Prisons Commander, Mid Northern Region.

Led by the judge, the judicial officials present committed to providing additional reference material to inform the final work on the Toolkit. The various sectors represented in the room spoke to the strength of the partnerships that have been formed and the positive impact that can take place through working together and taking a holistic approach to supporting people in prison. We’re excited to release a great resource through the PHRA Toolkit and to see the work continue to empower people to transform their communities.