Voluntary work through UWE Bristol helps inmates in Kenya get a law degree

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Law students from Bristol Law School have helped inmates and wardens in prisons in Kenya to study for a law degree, by giving them access to course materials and providing legal tuition through a volunteer project over the summer.

Several students from UWE Bristol worked with the three biggest high-security correctional institutions in Kenya through the African Prisons Project (APP), a charity that gives inmates and prison officers the chance to study for a law degree through the University of London.

Twenty-five students (19 first years and six second and third years) first spent several months meticulously resourcing and downloading legal materials from the Westlaw and Lexis libraries, with the help of the faculty librarian.

They then sent these over to the men’s (but also some women’s) prisons to help the African students, given that most of the institutions do not have access to the internet. This provided the students with valuable reading materials they would otherwise not have been able to access, and led to them gaining higher marks in their final examinations.

Starting in July, five UWE Bristol law students then travelled to Kenya for four to 10 weeks, where they taught a foundation course for those inmates and prison officials looking to start the law degree.

Kathy Brown, who is senior lecturer in UWE Bristol’s department of law and who overseas student participation in APP, said: “Studying for a law degree has enabled the prisoners to gain a higher level of education, act as paralegals for other inmates and represent themselves in court. Many of them are given extreme sentences for relatively small crimes, such as being given death penalty for aggravated burglary, and are on remand for several years.

“Prison officers, who are badly paid, are also given the chance to learn a discipline and make a better life for themselves, as well as provide better support for the prisoners. Often this leads to them no longer seeing prison as a place of punishment but a place that must enable change for vulnerable members of society.”

In September former inmate Morris Kaberia was released from Kamiti high security prison, when his sentence was quashed after serving 13 years. Fellow inmates formed part of the legal team that prepared court documents and these helped him to defend himself successfully in court. During his second appeal, the court found that Kaberia’s rights at the original trial had been violated and ruled against both his sentence and conviction.

Although a free man, Kaberia still regularly attends Kamiti, one of the prisons UWE Bristol’s volunteers work with, to finish the final year of his law degree. Brown said: “It used to be notoriously violent and dangerous, but it isn’t anymore and I think the culture of education has made it a place of learning.

“By supporting APP to deliver legal education, our students have contributed to the likely success of hundreds of inmates being released due to the work of the inmate paralegals. Those students who undertake the LLB in prison are also more likely to be considered for presidential pardons.”

The five students who travelled to the East African country were selected based on their motivation, rather than on academic achievements so far on their law degree programme. UWE Bristol sponsored the trip by paying for expenses. “This was about giving students that would otherwise never have done these things, a chance to shine,” explained Brown.

Kelly Eastham, a second year law student who travelled to Africa as part of the scheme, said: “I never thought I would spend my summer working in three maximum security prisons in Kenya and that these would be the places that would inspire me the most. I am beyond moved by every single inmate and their motivation to achieve a law degree purely to help others with no regard for financial gain.”

Third year student George Ufumwen, who also volunteered, said: “I am very grateful for this opportunity as I would not have been able to finance this of my own accord. Integration into the project has given me new found confidence, as I was able to work closely with other students in a dynamic environment and gain a good understanding of how these skills work in a real life scenario.”

So far, through the APP scheme, which also works in Uganda, three inmates have graduated with the LLB law degree in Uganda and two in Kenya. Eight more are set to graduate in October.