Breaking down barriers between prisoners and prison staff
In this guest blog, Matteo Cassini, Community Development Manager at Justice Defenders talks about their work in Uganda and Kenya. Their project works with the University of London, delivering legal education and breaking down barriers between prisoners and prison staff.
Prisoner staff relations
The traditional understanding of the role of the prison-staff has been a custodian who is only concerned with discipline and security. When Justice Defenders, known as JD (formerly the African Prisons Project) started working in East Africa that was the entrenched idea within the prisons of Uganda and Kenya.
As a result, the fragile relationship between the prison warder and the inmate was one of authority and subjects, one which would often disintegrate, leading to riots and violence within prisons. In reaction, authorities would use forceful measures to keep order, reinforcing the imbalanced power dynamics within prison and compromising existing rehabilitative practices too.Over the past decade, although education within prison was seen as a tool for rehabilitation, it was only focused towards prisoners. Often, it would be the prison officers who would teach the inmates, further entrenching the status quo of top-down relationship between the two.
One big oversight in this model was the learning participation of the prison officers, whose professional development pathways are regularly overlooked. This would contribute to the cynicism of prison officials towards the education needs of prisoners, in particular for higher education, feeding into a cycle of power imbalance, fragile relationships, eventual disorder and reactionary use of force.
Change from the inside
In order to address these challenges Justice Defenders (JD) introduced an innovative model for defending justice with defenceless communities through legal education, training, and practice. Rather than bring in outsiders to provide legal advice and education, JD equip the prisoners and prison officers to become advocates for themselves and others. By placing the power of the law in the hands of those further from justice, the dynamics of the prison system are changed from inside.
In partnership with the University of London, Justice Defenders supports both prisoners and prison staff to study the distance learning law degree course run by the University of London.
So far, between 2018 and 2020, 23 students have already graduated with a Bachelor’s degree from the University of London and 45 more students are now studying for their degree. Justice Defenders are effectively running law schools in prison with a view to bringing about long term change. The students are not studying courses specially tailored for people in prison but the standard University of London international course.
Het volledige artikel kan je hier lezen (Prisoners' Education Trust) .