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

Law students from UWE Bristol 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 the 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 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 (and 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.

Studying for a law degree has enabled the prisoners to gain a higher level of education

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.

I think the culture of education has made [prison] 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.”

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.