Often, the only images of prisons in Africa that we know are the miserable places where faces press against barred windows, with inmates huddled together looking out desperately for someone to help.
The African Prisons Project, started in Uganda 10 years ago and now offered in Kenya, would like to change that. They offer a program to equip prisoners with legal skills and ensure that they get timely justice.
John Karanja, condemned to die many years ago for robbery with violence before his sentence was commuted to life behind bars, is one beneficiary of the Project. He expressed optimism that he will be leaving prison soon, thanks to his law degree.
“I had lost hope that I would ever leave prison until I started studying law. I had exhausted all my pleas and was resigned to my fate behind bars for life. But I have gained legal knowledge that made me look at my charges afresh. I have already launched a petition in court for my case and I have prepared enough to ensure my acquittal,” he said.
Legal Aid manager John Muthuri said Kenyan prisons are filled with inmates who do not deserve to be there.
“In Kenya, there are only about 8,000 lawyers who are supposed to serve more than 54,000 prisoners. This translates to about 80 per cent of inmates who suffer behind bars for lack of legal representation,” said Muthuri.
Currently 10 convicts in Kenya have graduated with law degrees after four years of study behind bars.
After scoring well on a test, one must complete a three-week training as a paralegal officer to offer legal advice to fellow inmates. The degree is issued by the University of London.
Peter Ouko, a law student in a maximum security prison, explained the purpose of his studies was “to get justice” but also to help his fellow colleagues “who are going through worse times than me.” Already they have achieved 400 releases, he said in an interview with CitizenNews.co.ke. “They having better self-representation in court, we type up their appeals.. Of course their convictions may still be upheld,
Ouko is free to talk through the “campus” which has plantings and some trees. His room is a large dormitory which he shares with several other confined people.
“The programme equips one with top legal skills. It has been highly gratifying to help inmates who can’t afford lawyers up to a point that they leave prison. Helping others is what has kept me going all these years,” said Dickson Munene, a former police officer and now one of the graduates.
SOURCE: Global Information Network