PRI’s ExTRA project, which ran between 2014-2016, tested a new model for effective delivery of Community Service Orders (CSOs) in three pilot regions of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. It was supported by funding from the UK Government (UKAID).
In East Africa, thousands of people from lower socio-economic groups of society are sentenced each year to prison for a few days, weeks or months for minor or petty offences such as using abusive language in public, vagrancy, or operating as a street vendor without a licence. This contributes to serious prison overcrowding, putting further stress on an already strained system, as well as causing harmful effects to offenders who become entrenched in poverty through loss of employment and can often become sick from being held in unsanitary and degrading conditions. These issues can be exacerbated when prison systems don’t efficiently recognise when a prisoner is due for release, meaning that many people end up serving longer sentences than they were given.
CSOs as an alternative
CSOs are an alternative to short prison sentences and are available to be used according to legislation in all three target countries; however they are currently under-utilised. CSOs combine punishment and rehabilitation: they require offenders to complete unpaid work for public benefit and continue to support themselves and their families without being withdrawn from society. Community service also gives offenders the opportunity to learn new skills that can lead to legitimate income-raising opportunities and an alternative to reoffending.
Concerns about CSOs
There has been a decline in the use of CSOs within East Africa, and PRI’s research found that this is at least in part associated with the doubts that key stakeholders have about CSOs, regarding how decisions are made to award them and about how well they are implemented. Please see PRI’s paper Alternatives to imprisonment in East Africa: trends and challenges for further detail.
The ExTRA Project
The goal was to reduce the unnecessary use of imprisonment for convicted offenders. PRI aimed to achieve this through the ExTRA project’s activities in order to increase the use of CSOs, improve levels of compliance by offenders and increase positive public attitudes towards CSOs.
Read the Theory of Change
The aim of the project was to have wider impacts for both the prison systems and the individual offenders when achieving these three key outcomes.
- In terms of the prison institutions, fewer convicted offenders in prison will ease overcrowding, helping conditions to move closer to international standards and making economic savings that can be reinvested into the system to improve the resources to work with rehabilitating more serious offenders.
- For the offenders that take part in community service, rather than being incarcerated, reintegration into society becomes far less of an issue. Offenders are far more likely to better understand their offending behaviour and develop skills that could help them from reoffending further. It also means that they are more able to provide and receive support from their family and contribute to society.
Project activities varied slightly across the three countries, due to the local contexts and the level of development of the community service systems. However, in each country the activities targeted three main stakeholders: those who imposed community sentences; those who implemented community sentences; and the larger community working in or around CSOs. Activities included capacity-building workshops for stakeholders, supporting empowerment programmes for offenders, multi-agency meetings and engaging with the media for awareness campaigns.
PRI worked closely with the government departments responsible for CSOs in each country, in order to achieve the intended outcomes. They were the Probation and Aftercare Department (Kenya), Community Service Department (Uganda), and the Department of Probation and Community Service (Tanzania).
Below are the project regions within each country:
Kenya: the region served by Meru High Court (including counties of Meru, Tharaka and Isiolo), with a population of 1.86 million. The area has eight courts including the High Court, five prisons, and 34 probation officers.
Tanzania: the Mbeya region with a population of 2.7 million, served by one high court, one magistrate court, seven district courts and 43 primary courts. The region is served by only nine probation officers. There is one maximum security prison and seven district prisons.
Uganda: three magisterial areas (Jinja, Iganga, Mbale) of Eastern Uganda, covering 17 districts with a total of 25 courts. There are 37 prisons in the area, ranging from holding seven prisoners to holding over 900.
Omar Phoenix Khan, who led on the project, shares his reflections on what lessons have been learned with regards to how alternatives to prison in East Africa can be improved.
Click here to read the final evaluation of the ExTRA project.
Alternatives to imprisonment for women
During 2016, PRI also worked with the Kenyan Probation Service to adapt community service and probation orders for women, in-line with the UN Bangkok Rules.
Watch this short film to find out more about what the benefits and also the challenges are for women serving community service and probation orders in Kenya.
Download the project’s summary briefing on lessons and recommendations for implementing gender-specific alternatives.