The Power of The Law in the Hands of The Poor
Last week African Prisons Project in East Africa was visited by Nicola Brentnall, CEO of The Queen's Commonwealth Trust, and Rev’d Rose Hudson-Wilkin, Chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons and Chaplain to the Queen. We were delighted to celebrate our work with them and their support for us. Where justice is out of reach for those who need it most, we train and support prisoners and prisons staff who will ensure access to justice for all, becoming changemakers within the justice system.
We ran a series of workshops and events to celebrate the contribution of The Queen's Commonwealth Trust to APP's work in prisons and our mission to put the power of the law into the hands of the poor.
On the 20th September, APP and the Queen's Commonwealth Trust visited Lang'ata Women's Prison in Nairobi to celebrate the results of the University of London (UoL) degree course many of the inmates and officers are studying.
We provide formalised sponsorship enabling prisoners and prison staff to study law with UoL’s distance learning programme. Through this, we support the many prisoners who are denied a fair trial simply because issues of poverty prevent them from accessing legal support. Masters and postgraduate study are also available to senior prison professionals.
On the 21st September, Nicola and Rose toured Luzira Upper Prison in Kampala, visiting the new Legal Aid Clinic based there. They also participated in the launch of a new Youth Centre connected to the prison.
You can read more about Nicola’s experience here
The APP Youth Centre was built under the Okimanyi? Youth Peer-to-Peer Health Education Programme was officially opened on Friday. Built within the Luzira Prison Barracks, this is where most of the officers and their families live. Youth Health Advocates (YHAs) and Library Assistants trained to undertake the Peer-to-Peer Health Education and staff the Youth Centre Library (and others) will be publicly recognised for their efforts.
A Global Problem
Overcrowded and under-resourced prisons are increasing around the world. Prisons in England and Wales have recently seen emergency intervention at Birmingham and Bedford following the reports of dire conditions. In the US across more than 17 states, protest organisers described their treatment as “modern-day slavery”, with labor strikes, hunger strikes and sit-ins taking place.
Our work began over 10 years ago by improving prison conditions. That work continues through the programmes and partnerships we’ve established. Today we are working to empty the prisons of those who shouldn’t be there at all, empowering those most in need to access justice for themselves and those around them.
Our Legal Aid Manager John Muthuri, writes in Kenya’s Daily Nation of the unnecessary imprisonment of so many suggesting Kenya should “shift from a punitive society to a reconciliatory one” -
“The root cause of the problem is that many detainees in Kenya should not even be in prison in the first place. The majority simply lack the means to defend themselves in court, resulting in unjust verdicts that could have been challenged and overturned. Multiple barriers prevent most detainees from obtaining justice. About 90 per cent of them cannot afford quality legal representation.”
An Ambitious Solution
We operate in partnership with those who live and work within the justice system - from prisoners, to prisons staff and the judiciary - to those in government and other agencies, towards a common goal.
We provide legal support and training for the men and women living and working in prisons across East Africa, placing the power of the law in the hands of the poor.
“One year after graduating from high school, I faced a charge of robbery. My parents could not afford a lawyer for me. I was given a death sentence which was later commuted to life imprisonment.
This appeared like the end of my life. Nothing that I or people did gave me the desire to live another day. I was bitter. This was until the African Prisons Project came into my life. The scholarship to study law at the University of London has literally rekindled my life. I now see an opportunity to influence change in the justice system.
Instead of hating myself, I experience immense potential and self-worth. Instead of seeing myself as low, I now pride myself in using my legal skills to help those around me. I use my time to give voluntary paralegal services to my fellow inmates. I draft written submissions and court applications and represent clients as an intermediary in court.
Wilson Kinyua - Kamiti Maximum Security Prison
Together we are supporting some of the most vulnerable communities in East Africa, ensuring equitable access to justice. We are seeking to create a platform from which to share effective change by demonstrating a scalable, transferable model of justice reform, sharing innovation and inspiring entire nations.
“Whilst many prison systems across the world are in crisis, we exist to transform imprisonment and to empower people in prison to drive positive change. We have seen our community of changemakers do what others claim cannot be done.” Alexander McLean - Founder African Prisons Project