Innocent until proven guilty.
To us, this seems like a basic human right. It’s been the standard in legal practice for centuries and 64 years ago was formalised by the UN and acknowledged in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
But sadly there are many people around the world who are held for years in prison without trial or conviction. Through our partner in Patongo, northern Uganda, we have come across some young people in this situation in their local prison. The trial process is so delayed that young people will be kept in prison for months on end, accused but not convicted. Indeed, some of these people will never make it to court at all, but simply be released months after their arbitrary imprisonment.
These young people are kept in the ramshackle prison buildings, thrown in jail together with the guilty; women and men, young people and adults all kept together, crammed as tightly as the London Underground in rush hour. Many are imprisoned for theft, forced by their desperate poverty to steal food in order to survive, or violence stemming from the intense psychological trauma of being abducted and coerced into being a child soldier. The government currently offers them little support, training or rehabilitation, so even when released the young people return to the same patterns of behaviour.
This is why our partner has started a counselling programme in the prison, reaching out to young people directly and training up long term prisoners to act as peer counsellors. Through this counselling and workshops on alcoholism, domestic violence and other relevant issues, our partner has started to support and rehabilitate these young offenders.
We hope in time to be able to expand our programme in the prison to better support the youths there and also to work with local government to speed up the trial process in order to cut down on the number of unconvicted young people held in prison. We know that this kind of change cannot happen overnight, but we hope and pray that with perseverance we will see reforms come.