In general, the conditions in African prisons are painfully poor. Many are severely overcrowded, lack sanitation and are unable to provide adequate nutrition. Access to books and education is limited or non-existent. Medical facilities are wholly inadequate.
The African Prisons Project exists because we believe there is a need to recognise the inherent worth of every human being.
We work in a continent where physical punishment and the death penalty are still widespread and where for many people a prison sentence means hard labour. We serve countries with police forces and prisons services which are often underfunded and undertrained. Countries where many people are in prison for being vagabonds or vagrants; debtors or loiterers; criminal lunatics or lunatic criminals. Countries where the death penalty is given for witchcraft or procuring an abortion, mutiny, treason and cowardice.
Almost all the prisoners that we serve have never met a lawyer. Many wait in prison for years, even decades before going to court and in many countries more than two thirds of prisoners have not been convicted of an offence.
According to the Institute for War and Peace Reporting 60% of prisoners in Uganda are on remand; Draft new legislation in Uganda proposes the death penalty for gay people (aggravated homosexuality) and imprisonment for families who fail to report their gay relatives to the police within 24 hours of finding out about their sexuality; In many African countries those imprisoned for being in debt are made to pay rent to the prisons service; More than 90% of prisoners in countries like Uganda have to defend themselves at court.
Prisoners reside in prisons which were often built many decades ago and are now several times above capacity. Some die from suffocation resulting from staying in overcrowded cells, sometimes with too little space for everyone to sit down at the same time, usually without sanitation, others from malnutrition. Babies and children born to women in prison often die during childbirth and infancy due to lack of access to medical facilities.
But it does not have to be this way. The African Prisons Project provides models for a human rights, rehabilitative approach to imprisonment which can be replicated by financially limited prisons services. We show that another way is possible!