Legal Empowerment in Practice: APP
This member spotlight features an interview with the African Prisons Project, which works in East Africa.
This member spotlight features the African Prisons Project.
Thematic focus: Criminal Justice
Adoption of legal empowerment approach: 2007
What is your organization’s Mission?
African Prisons Project’s (APP) mission is to bring dignity and hope to the men, women, and children living and working in prisons across Africa.
What kind of issues does your legal empowerment work address?
As is the case throughout the world, criminal justice systems in Kenya and Uganda favor the elite. In these countries, most detainees are low-income with little formal education, impacting disproportionately on the poor. Around 90% of detainees cannot afford legal representation, and with little in the way of formal education, the majority are ill-equipped to defend themselves in court. High poverty levels, low literacy rates, and negative socio-cultural practices foster violations of women’s rights in both countries.
How are you using legal empowerment to address the problems?
Through legal education, we provide a pathway for inmates and prison officers to become lawyers and paralegals so they can take the power of the law into their own hands and use it to create positive outcomes.
APP’s Justice Changemaker Program:
- Provides full scholarships to eligible prisoners to support their undergraduate studies at the University of London’s Bachelors of Laws distance learning program;
- Educates inmates on criminal justice systems, legal procedures, key differences in local laws, and legal rights and responsibilities;
- Allows student-inmates to provide legal advice to their fellow inmates and teach them the fundamentals of the legal system.
To ensure long-term impact, APP has a Secondment Program that sends local senior prison officers to the UK, aiming to share best practices in prison management to develop and replicate them in Kenya and Uganda. APP also cultivates relationships with the wider judicial actors at regional and national levels. Our goal is to collaborate in developing a sentencing policy, parole, and restorative justice systems.
Our programs are designed to empower prisoners, prison staff, and government leaders to facilitate access to justice from within prison walls. Our 2020 vision is to establish the world’s first prison-based legal college and law firm.
Our “Justice Changemakers,” as we call them, become leaders in prison who transform their communities using the law. They have gone on to represent and provide legal education to their fellow inmates.
Currently, APP is supporting 63 inmates in Ugandan and Kenyan prisons to earn their law degrees from the University of London. We have trained another 60 as paralegals.
Since 2015, APP Justice Changemakers have provided legal services to 3,000 prisoners resulting in 1,575 sureties traced, 533 cases successfully dismissed in court, 135 non-custodial sentences granted, and 16 death sentences averted.
Do you have any advice for other justice organizations?
Our advice for justice organizations would be to constantly involve, collaborate, and solve problems with their stakeholders in the entire process of program development and implementation. Each player in the ecosystem is necessary to enact legal empowerment programs with the potential for long-term, meaningful change and impact.
In the past ten years, a central theme in APP’s evolution is the importance of involving all key stakeholders and beneficiaries in project development. Creating an inclusive environment that enables all parties to have a voice in shaping the work ensures prison-wide ownership of the project – a vital component to the success of any prison empowerment program. Following implementation, we regularly seek the feedback of beneficiaries and stakeholders and refine areas for improvement to promote best practice.
We have also learned that addressing underlying issues related to our stakeholders is crucial. For example, judicial delays have caused huge case backlogs, negatively affecting the outcome of cases represented by APP. In order to address this, APP is seeking to bring together agents of the judiciary and criminal justice system in Kenya and Uganda to discuss the reasons for delays and find solutions.
For more insight into APP’s work here’s a link to their media and reports
Member Spotlights are short profile articles focusing on members of the Global Legal Empowerment Network. Spotlight articles use case studies to provide useful insights into the work of other network members. Whether you are working in the same country, with similar issues or want to understand new legal empowerment approaches, the Member Spotlight is a useful learning resource. You can read about organizations in our network here (Topics tagged memberspotlight)