Penal Reform International (PRI) promotes the effective use of alternatives to imprisonment – such as probation, community service and diversion – in numerous countries worldwide. Under this thematic area and with funding from the UK Department for International Development (DFID), PRI convened several community service seminars for magistrates in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and Kampala in Uganda in May 2012. The seminars were convened in partnership with the Tanzania Department of Probation and Community Service and the Uganda Department of Community Service. They aimed to sensitise magistrates about alternative sanctions and provide a space where magistrates and probation officers could discuss their respective challenges and devise common solutions.
In Tanzania, approximately 90 magistrates participated in the seminars and in Uganda approximately 70 attended. PRI provided an overview of relevant international standards, such as the Standard Minimum Rules for Non-custodial Measures (the Tokyo Rules), and a comparative perspective on the functioning of community service programmes in other jurisdictions while Ugandan and Tanzanian judges and probation officers presented on the day to day functioning of their community service programmes and challenges related to the effective monitoring of offenders, absconding and finding suitable placements.
The discussions at the seminars drew attention to the many challenges facing community service departments in both Tanzania and Uganda. For instance, in Uganda, several probation officers highlighted the challenges inherent in supervising community service offenders who live hundreds of kilometers away from the nearest probation office in the absence of adequate transportation. Meanwhile in Tanzania, probation officers discussed the way in which their role in the criminal justice process is often undervalued by magistrates.
At the same time, in both countries the magistrates expressed a number of major concerns related to issuing community service orders, even for minor offences such as touting for customers, using abusive language and operating unauthorised businesses. For instance, some magistrates were concerned about being perceived as ‘soft on crime’ by local community members whereas others thought that they would be accused of being corrupt if they did not send offenders to prison.
While achievements have been attained by the probation and community service departments in both Uganda and Tanzania in recent years – despite wholly inadequate resourcing – much more remains to be done if community service is to become an alternative to prison which is capable of bringing down the overall numbers of detainees in Tanzania and Uganda’s overcrowded prisons. The departments must be adequately resourced, new magistrates need to be routinely sensitised and work must be undertaken with local communities to address punitive attitudes towards those who commit minor offences.
This capacity development initiative is being implemented under the framework of a broader DFID-funded programme which aims to promote alternatives to imprisonment in East Africa. Further information about the status of alternatives to imprisonment in this region is available in a recently published PRI report.