Over the past three years, African Prisons Project has been working to deliver access to justice and healthcare to prisoners in Oyam and Apac districts in Northern Uganda. The project, supported by the International Development Fund (IDF), was implemented in eight prisons and has recently come to the end of its three year cycle.
Those involved in implementing the project – and its beneficiaries – gathered in December to celebrate the success of the project and mark its official closure, providing an opportunity to share achievements, review any challenges encountered and to launch the Prison Human Rights Advocates Toolkit – one of the key outputs of the project.
40.4% of people in Mid-Northern Uganda are living in absolute poverty – less than $1 a day – with an additional 40.4% said to be at risk. This, alongside high levels of illiteracy means that the majority of people who end up in the criminal justice system are unable to afford the services of a lawyer or understand their rights and procedures within the system. At the time of our intervention, only two of the eight prisons within the region had a Health Centre within the prisons grounds, three prisons with on-site Nursing Assistants. The remaining prisons had a Prison Officer in charge of dispensing first aid medication.
Having identified some clear needs within the prison communities, APP set out to implement a sector-wide approach to ensure full participation and ownership of the project by both its beneficiaries and stakeholders. Firstly, APP trained prison staff as Prison Human Rights Advocates (PHRAs) and set up Prison Village Health Teams (PVHTs), whilst prisoners were trained as Prison Peer Educators (PPEs). This was followed by creating a direct link between beneficiaries and stakeholders – namely officials within both the judicial and health sectors.
By training prisoners and prison staff we have been able to build capacity within the prison communities and close the project with confidence that needs continue to be met by offering a self-sustainable model.
“APP has really done a great job because before we were trained, we didn’t know about appeal and bail. We have now taught the inmates it and everyone knows the procedures to undergo to get bail. This has contributed to decongesting the prisons. I promise to continue the good work of teaching people about their rights everywhere I will go, even if the project ends now.” - Oryema Paul, Prison Officer and PHRA Oyam Prison.
“Before we were trained in 2013 as Prison Village Health Team members, prisoners were not able to access healthcare. I am happy to say that ever since the PVHT training, no deaths have been recorded in Oyam prison! We conduct awareness sessions among prisoners about their health, especially on HIV. Prisoners used to fear to disclose their HIV status but currently, when we counsel them, they freely disclose it and start taking medication, and they all look healthy.
I thank the Officers in Charge for their support and for accepting a civilian like me to work in prison. I thank the health workers for the support they render to us whenever we refer our patients to them. And I especially thank the Regional Prison Commander, Mid-Northern region for his support to our work in the prison community.” - Epiaka Saphira, PVHT Oyam Prison.
Prison Human Rights Advocates Toolkit
The Prison Human Rights Advocates’ Toolkit is a reference guide for prison officers and prisoners trained as Prison Human Rights Advocates and Prison Peer Educators respectively as they contribute to enabling the most vulnerable in prisons to access justice through the provision of basic legal advice and support. This is achieved through legal and human rights awareness sessions, tracing sureties, facilitating reconciliation between prisoners and their respective complainants, and linking prisoners. It was developed by APP with the support of the Justice, law and Order Sector Officials in the districts where the project was being implemented and will be rolled out at a national level.
The Honourable Justice Dr. Nabisinde launched the Toolkit and handed signed copies to the Regional Prisons Commander, the District Prisons Commanders and the Officers in Charge of the eight prisons across Oyam and Apac.
In her closing remarks, the judge congratulated APP on achieving such great results from the project and on the successful launch of the Toolkit which will be used as a guiding tool for supporting prisoners who cannot afford the services of a lawyer. She pledged to continue supporting the work of APP and encouraged the organisation to work towards scaling up the project.
“Prison used to be a place for punishment but I am happy that it is now a rehabilitation centre. I encourage APP to engage more with the community. Offenders should not be considered as outcasts but as normal people. These prisoners usually acquire skills from the prison which help them after serving their sentences. We shall continue supporting and working with you and pray for the project to grow bigger. We thank APP for choosing our region to support prisoners. Thank you for sowing a seed in our community and for nurturing us.
I encourage the people who were trained to pass on the skills to other people so that there is continuity of the project. PVHTs and PHRAs should create an association which can be used to pass on the information that was given to them. I also urge the PVHTs to keep helping the people in the prison community.” - Guest of Honour Dr. Winfred Nabisinde.
The event came to a close on an exciting note as the PHRAs and PVHTs were awarded certificates and bicycles for their outstanding contribution in enabling access to justice and basic healthcare for prisoners in Oyam and Apac Districts. The bicycles will ease the work of the PHRAs and PVHTs as they trace sureties for prisoners and transport sick prisoners to community health facilities.
“This project has helped to connect us to the prison community. It has enabled us to interact freely with the prison, magistrates and the police. It is my plea that we extend this to other areas so that Oyam and Apac act like the pilot and teach other areas how this project has improved our community."
- Egwang Martin-Senior Nursing Officer. Apac Health Centre, Apac District
“I am glad that this project has achieved its objectives for both the first phase and the second phase... I am happy to say that there is improved access to justice and healthcare services in Lango Sub Region. Most prisoners are poor and cannot afford legal services, however this project has really helped a lot. In the prisons where APP operates, access to healthcare and justice score highly. I am happy that the PVHTs and PHRAs are being recognised for the great work they are doing. I thank APP for the thought of working with the prison community because our sector is usually forgotten.”
- Mr Masiga Patrick-Regional Prisons Commander, Mid Northern Region.