I served as the presenter for the group on Prisons and Conditions of Detention in Africa. In our group were human rights defenders from Mozambique, The Gambia, Sudan, Mauritania, Guinea, Uganda, and Malawi. We began by discussing current challenges faced by one or more of these nations, of which there were many. These are just some examples: detention without cause; the mixing of men, women, and children in the general prison population; torture by prison authorities or other inmates; and poor sanitation and health conditions.
It was encouraging to hear, though, that some of these nations are making progress with their prison systems as well. Some are providing life skills training for inmates so that they can more easily integrate back into society after they serve their sentence. Others are being more intentional to allow inmates to see and interact with family members. Uganda is taking concrete steps to speed up the processing of cases and to shorten pre-trial detention for inmates (especially children). For example, Uganda now allows paralegals to assist minors with bail hearings and makes greater use of plea bargaining for minor offenses.
I was particularly encouraged about developments to reduce the length of pre-trial detention in Uganda, because Regent Center for Global Justice students and faithful partners (like Uganda Director of Public Prosecution Mike Chibita and Pepperdine Professor Jim Gash) have worked on this issue for many years. It is really a joy to see the Center’s work bear fruit in concrete ways!