In many countries in Africa, prisons are severely overcrowded.
According to the International Centre for Prison Studies’ World Prison Brief, the number of prisoners exceeds capacity in 37 out of 46 African countries. In 10 countries occupancy levels are operating at more than twice capacity. The occupancy rates in countries where PRI currently works are 115% in Tanzania, 202% in Kenya and 273% in Uganda. This is largely the result of excessive use of pre-trial detention and disproportionate prison sentences.
Approximately half of those detained at any one time are awaiting justice. Pre-trial detainees represent 55% of prisoners in Uganda, 50% in Tanzania and 40% in Kenya. Many will spend months and even years in detention – without being tried or found guilty.
Large numbers of those sentenced to prison receive relatively short prison sentences for minor offences. Research conducted by PRI in East Africa in 2012 showed that people are imprisoned for offences ranging from using abusive language and operating without a valid business licence to desertion of a child and unlawful gambling. It is likely that at least some of these offences could be dealt with in a more effective and cost-efficient way than a prison sentence.
We have a strong record of working in partnership with governments and NGOs to develop non-custodial measures in Africa, as well as to promote good prison management. In the early 1990s we assisted with the development of community service in Zimbabwe and subsequently worked in a number of countries in East Africa to help establish Community Service Orders (CSOs) as an alternative to imprisonment.
Thanks in part to PRI’s work, the use of Community Service Orders (CSOs) increased. For example, CSOs given by magistrates in Kenya rose from 3,000 orders in 1990 to 55,000 in 1997. However, there was then a sharp decline, and in 2012, we started work to help identify the reasons why this had happened. In partnership with probation and aftercare services and civil society partners, we are now addressing the challenges that are currently preventing greater use of community service and other alternatives to imprisonment, including pre-trial measures.
What we are doing
We are helping to address decongestion in prisons in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania by developing models of good practice, and by providing training and technical assistance to promote the use of alternatives. We also facilitate the sharing of good practice and expertise within the wider region.
- We publish research and guidance on alternatives, including Alternatives to imprisonment in East Africa: trends and challenges and a resource pack Making Community Service Work: A Resource Pack from East Africa.
- We are supporting probation services to raise awareness among local communities about community service orders and the potential benefits for communities.
- We conduct training workshops and conferences for magistrates and prison and probation services on alternatives to imprisonment and on good practice for implementing community service orders.
- We are supporting the development of the African Network on Probation and Community Service (CAPC), which has been set up to facilitate the exchange of good practice, experience and collaboration among probation services in Africa.
- To support civil society in the region, the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (Uganda) and PRI established an e-network of NGOs to share information, good practice and enable collaboration in the promotion of alternatives to imprisonment, justice for children and improved treatment and conditions for women in the criminal justice system.
This work is currently largely delivered through our Excellence in Training on Rehabilitation in Africa (ExTRA) Project (2014-2016) funded by the UK Government. This pilot projects aims to increase and improve the use of community service orders with the end goal of reducing chronic overcrowding. It works with all the different, but inter-linking, levels of the criminal justice system, delivering training, awareness raising, and practical expertise and support to government probation services, the judiciary and community supervision officers.