A Judicial Reflection
Masaka is a large town in the Central Region of Uganda, west of Lake Victoria. The Hon. Lady Justice Dr. Winifred Nabisinde is the Resident Judge in that region.
In August 2013, when she was the Resident Judge in mid-Northern Uganda, Justice Nabisinde was introduced to the African Prison Project.
“As judicial officers, we welcome all services on behalf of inmates in custody. When the judiciary has confidence in institutions that keep custody of inmates, they feel that they have upheld the rights of prisoners.”
APP began their work improving prison conditions before shifting focus to legal education for prisoners and prison staff. Despite having seen conditions improve - through health initiatives, libraries and skills training - we saw that a desperate need remained for access to justice. This requires both a top-down and bottom-up approach.
From Prisoners to Legal Practitioners
The prisoners we work with across Kenya and Uganda cannot wait for the system to change. Many of those in custody are held in remand prisons for years before their case is even heard and they have no legal knowledge or representation to ensure that they receive a fair trial. They need immediate access to legal advice and support, and for some of them, this is the start to a legal education that could change others lives as well as their own - even from behind bars.
In January 2018, with the support of 43 auxiliary paralegals in Uganda’s mid-Central region, inmates have been equipped with basic legal knowledge to help them access justice. A total of 11 awareness sessions were held in 10 prisons with a cumulative attendance of 871 prisoners (824 men and 47 women). As a result, inmates are becoming their own advocates, are able to represent themselves in court and mitigate their sentences. Consequently, some of them have managed to get bail, have their cases dismissed and get non-custodial sentences.
Supporting the Justice Officials
At the same time, APP works in partnership with prison officers and justice officials to equip them with human rights training, as well as to provide professional development for them, with secondment opportunities to the UK. During 2018, with funding from the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission and Clifford Chance, APP supported six Kenyan prison leaders for two UK learning journeys, during which they learnt about the British criminal justice system and gained important exposure experiences in British prisons.
And with more than a dozen prisoners and prison staff graduating from the University of London with law degrees [LLB] last year, we are beginning to see those most affected by the law becoming those who can make, shape and implement the law.
Within the Justice System
Working with people like Justice Nabisinde provides a broader picture of the justice system as a whole -
“The prisons service needs a lot of support from partners who provide development aid. APP training provides prison warders with a different and deeper human rights perspective of how to deal with prisoners. Administrators who are trained get to appreciate that prison is not a punishment facility.”
Tracing sureties by APP has bridged the gap to ensure that inmates have access to their relatives who can stand as sureties for them when they are presented at court. The paralegal training also contributes to bridging the gap between the prison authorities and the prisoners.
“The VHT programme in the prisons was remarkable as it benefits both the judicial and prison systems ensuring that the prisoners have quick access to health services. This is part of holistic management of prisoner. Prisoners coming to court when they are unwell or failing to come to court when they are unwell slows down the whole process of access to justice.”
Hopes for Justice Reform
APP has been recognised in both Kenya and Uganda for its collaboration with the Prison Services and its initiatives but there is still much to be done.
Justice Nabisinde outlines her hopes for justice reform -
inmates serve sentences for crimes they have committed.
reduce the number of committals and those on remand.
before full conviction, the majority should be able to access bail
people we grant bail to understand fully what they are applying for and when out on bail, attend court promptly
a reduction in congestion in prisons: to be more humane, prisons should be limited to the numbers they have been built for. This way the facilities will not be overwhelmed.
improvement of prison facilities so that they are more reformative and less punitive.
give less custodial sentences and rather use other punishments like community service and fines for minor offences
specializing services in prison – especially in the women’s wing. For example, prisons with a women’s section could have facilities that cater for the children of the prisoners, allowing children to be children
offer/support prisons to build skills of offenders that will help them fit back into society after they complete their sentences.
APP has developed its Justice Changemaker Programme to provide legal education and services for prisoners and prison staff and provide a model for justice reform. Find out how you can support the changemakers who will make it happen.