On 6-8 November, PRI co-hosted an Africa Alternatives to Imprisonment Conference in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in partnership with the Government Probation Departments in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda and our local NGO partners in the region.
Twenty senior officials from Government Probation and Community Service departments in eight African countries (Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zimbabwe), and ten representatives from local civil society organisations in the region, participated in the conference. Legal frameworks, policy guidelines and practical implementation of Community Service Orders, as alternatives to imprisonment were discussed.
Countries shared their good practices, as well as their challenges, and this proved equally useful for countries such as South Sudan, where no non-custodial sanctions have been issued to date, as well as for countries such as Kenya where the Probation Service has been established since 1946. Issues discussed included the length of Community Service Orders; whether they are perceived as a ‘soft option’ by the judiciary and public; how to effectively supervise offenders; the role of civil society; and whether the type of work that offenders are ordered to do benefits them, for example, by gaining skills that will lead to future employment, as well as their communities, for example by building schools or contributing to reforestation schemes.
A key outcome from the Conference was the agreement to establish an Africa Network on Probation and Community Service (APC Network) for Government Probation and Community Service departments to continue to develop, share and promote good practice and standards on alternatives to imprisonment in Africa. An East Africa Criminal Justice Civil Society e-network has also been established.
Prison overcrowding is a serious problem in East Africa. The occupancy rate of prisons in Tanzania is over 124 per cent and in Kenya and Uganda it is over 200 per cent, fuelled partly by excessive use of pre-trial detention – approximately half of those detained at any one time are awaiting justice – and also by very short terms of imprisonment. A significant number of people, most of whom are living in poverty, are sentenced to prison for a few weeks or even days for offences such as using abusive language, operating a small business without a valid licence, the possession of illicit ‘liquor’ or simple theft.
PRI has been supporting alternatives to imprisonment in the region for many years, and specifically since 2012, the development of Community Service in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. The recommendations from the Conference will guide PRI’s future work with the Probation and Community Service departments and our civil society partners in the region on alternatives to imprisonment.
The Conference was supported by the UK Government.
Find out more
Inaugural meeting of the Africa Alternatives to Imprisonment Network
Africa Alternatives to Imprisonment Conference
Read press coverage of the event: Tanzania: Out-of-Jail ‘Inmates’ to Save Sh9 Billion Annually’ and Why a horde of inmates if congestion can ease prisons?
Find out more about what PRI is doing in East Africa