2021 in review

DISRUPTING THE GLOBAL NARRATIVE.
Putting people with lived experience of incarceration at the centre of justice reform.

Hear Alexander McLean’s reflection on the year at our 2021 carol service.

Introduction

From our Founder and CEO.

If you look inside our prisons, you’ll think it’s illegal to be poor. Suspects are often detained almost automatically once they are arrested. The world is crying out for justice. 

For justice to exist, we must turn up the volume and amplify the voices of the people who are often ignored.

We're elevating people with lived experience of injustice to be the driving force of criminal justice reform. Challenging mandatory death sentences and revolutionising courts, bringing them online at the start of the pandemic. Speaking from within prisons directly to the world's most high-profile media to rewrite the global narrative.

In 2021 we established new legal offices in prisons in Uganda and Kenya and launched Justice Defenders in The Gambia. We received almost 100 requests for our model from new communities and dozens of approaches to establish new legal offices in prisons in countries where we already work. We are committed to expanding our impact in sustainable ways. 

Thank you for standing with us. For daring to believe in a world where everyone has access to justice.

Alexander McLean
EQUAL ACCESS TO JUSTICE

Our mission and ethos.

Picture this: an overcrowded and under-resourced prison full of men, women, and children who have not been found guilty. This is the case for three million people around the world currently affected by the excessive use of pre-trial detention1.

The lack of access to justice can drive the lifeblood, the joy, the hope of a future from us, and leave us broken.

Everyone deserves the right to tell their story.

We don’t want to see the poor and most vulnerable filling our prisons simply because there was no one to equip them to fight for justice.

We want to see justice served; it’s vital for all of us.

1 Institute for Crime & Justice Policy Research at Birkbeck, University of London.
AGAINST ALL ODDS

We equip incarcerated people and prison officers to change the course of justice.

The law is seen as a profession for the privileged, the elite. We long for the mystique and pride which clouds so much of the legal system to drop away. We believe the law is here to serve all of us. It is a tool to serve democracy and the safe functioning of our societies.

Our work helps the people within the criminal justice system flourish.

We train paralegals and lawyers within defenceless communities to provide legal services for themselves and others. Because everyone deserves a fair hearing.
GROUNDED IN OUR VALUES

In servitude.

We serve all people in prison regardless of their offence, innocence, or guilt. No matter their sentence, religion, background, race, or gender. We believe every person’s life is fundamentally valuable— their past need not define their future.

On our journey to serve one million clients by 2030, our values are non-negotiable.
Bravery
We courageously act for a new and better world.
Humility
We’re servants, sinners, and saints.
Solidarity
We’re building bridges in adversarial justice systems.
Diana Luutu spent 23 years in prison for a crime she didn’t commit.

Our paralegals at Luzira Women’s Prison in Uganda helped secure security footage that proved she was not at the scene of the crime.

After her hearing at the court of appeal in November 2021, Diana was acquitted and released. 

Click the arrows to see Diana after her release.
“It was a surprise, during the hearing I saw some light. I was so pleased, it was joy all over.”
Diana after her release.
2021 At a Glance
£2.4 million
raised
87%
spent on programmes
£68 / $84
to train one paralegal in East Africa
CHANGING THE STORY

We rewrite global narratives.

Systemic racism and inequality thwart the expression of Black excellence around the world. 

Imagine the possibilities when people trapped in the criminal justice system are seen and heard.

Our audacious vision for justice has captured the attention of the world’s most high-profile media. Thousands of people have joined our mission after watching respected journalists ask us the difficult questions.

Watch our feature on CBS 60 Minutes
Paramount+ account required
MARCH 2021:
Jane Manyonge speaks to CNN from our legal office in Langata Women's Prison. 
AUGUST 2021:
Law graduate Morris Kaberia calls for the death penalty to be abolished globally.
AUGUST 2021:
Newly released paralegal Isaac Ndegwa shares his role fighting for justice.
Expansion to a new country

Successfully scaling our work amid the pandemic.

We’ve been working in prisons in East Africa for the past 15 years. Our expansion to The Gambia marks the start of a new chapter for Justice Defenders. Scaling our work one country at a time.

It’s an exciting moment. We know there will be challenges along the way. But when I reflect on our journey launching in The Gambia, from the team's first visit in May 2019, to the launch of our work on Monday 17 May 2021, I am humbled and find confidence in what our global team has achieved. 

If we are able to foster new relationships with a government, adapt our programme to respond to the unique justice landscape of a new country and establish a fully-fledged team during a pandemic, the possibilities for worldwide justice reform are remarkable.

Just as our programmes in East Africa provide unrivalled best-practice models for other countries, I know our paralegal programme in The Gambia will become a source of global inspiration.

Tim Bisong
Country Manager - The Gambia

"Having paralegals within the prison walls serving their
fellows is the most meaningful engagement The Gambia
Prison Service has had in the last decade. This is an engagement
of substance, I have seen inmates being granted bail and others being
released, this is really unprecedented in the history of our department."

Former Director General Gambia Prison Service Modou Jarju.
“I think the sky is absolutely no limit for the things that Justice Defenders can do to make Kenya and its justice system, particularly the criminal justice system, better for us so that we can have access to justice for all.”

AbdulQadir Lorot. Chief Magistrate and Chair of the Court Users Committee at the National Council Administration of Justice.
Justice Defenders was awarded the Access to Justice for All prize in the World Justice Challenge. A global competition that recognises high-impact projects that protect and advance the rule of law.

“My name is Peter Gachomba and I am a justice defender.”

Taking our work global

Our manifesto: responding to the grassroots need
for justice in the US and beyond.

Since Justice Defenders’ feature on 60 Minutes first aired in December 2020, we’ve been humbled by requests for legal training from people inside and outside of prisons, from all corners of the world. In 2021, we have received invitations to collaborate with multiple NGOs, universities, private companies and the United Nations. This overwhelming outreach represents more than 17 countries across Africa, Asia, the Americas, and Europe. And in the US alone, we have heard from incarcerated people and their families from across 22 states in America with requests for our programming and services.

The demand for justice is louder, and the need for justice is greater than ever before.

As we respond to the mandate of the people, we are listening deeply. Exploring the best way to ensure the law is placed in the hands of the people with least power in society, so that together we can be agents of change and reform.

In a fractured world, we seek to be countercultural. We unite justice defenders globally. We are poised for action but we won’t do this alone. Our goal is to serve one million defenceless people by 2030. Now is the time for our rallying cry to be heard.

Matteo Cassini
Director of Growth

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REMOVE
“During Covid, Justice Defenders went out of their way to ensure that prisons were reachable. It is not easy... They did that very well and we are very proud of them. To even get Naivasha online and help the virtual processes move so fast - that was actually enormous.

“In fact, they have contributed to the judiciary’s accolades for embracing virtual hearing, to the extent that we are now recognised worldwide.”
AbdulQadir Lorot, Chair of the Court Users Committee at the National Council Administration of Justice in Kenya. Referring to Kenya’s digital courts being praised at the United National General Assembly in September.

Photo: Pamela Nyage works in our legal office in Naivasha Women's Prison, Kenya.
Daring to do what others won’t

Reforming the criminal justice system from behind prison bars.

Many people who have changed the world have spent time in detention – including Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King and Angela Davis.

But it’s not only these household names achieving the extraordinary. Hear us. Our best performing law students – who meticulously study by flashlight in dark cells – are men and women sentenced to death, unseen.

Fighting for reform and reshaping the law based on their personal experiences. Our paralegals and University of London students have abolished draconian laws; in Kenya in 2021 our petition ‘Muruatetu Decision’ successfully challenged the mandatory death sentence and our work on ending the indefinite incarceration of people with mental disabilities paid off at the beginning of 2022, with another successful petition.

Striding confidently towards a more just future, our work is critical in challenging the unjust status quo; from the prisons to the palaces of justice.
“I would like to commend the work of Justice Defenders for their role in the criminal justice reforms process. The work they do is advancing the course of criminal justice."

Lady Justice Grace Ngenye, Chairperson of the National Committee on Criminal Justice Reforms in Kenya.
“It is impressive to acknowledge the huge wealth of resources, time and expertise that executions and leaders like you are willing to offer for the benefit of people who society has written off and oftentimes forgotten."

Ansumana Manneh, Director General Gambia Prison Services.
“If we get sentencing wrong, then I don't think we're able to get anything else right. So I'm behind Justice Defenders one hundred percent – in the mental health issues and your petitions, those petitions are groundbreaking.”

AbdulQadir Lorot. Chief Magistrate and Chair of the Court Users Committee at the National Council Administration of Justice.
Taking our work global

From death row to presidential palaces.

While in prison, Susan Kigula was the lead applicant in a landmark case that challenged Uganda’s mandatory death sentence.

The Supreme Court of Uganda ruled that a sentence of death should not be mandatory in cases of murder, and that a condemned person should not be kept on death row indefinitely.

Susan was able to have another day in court. She was resentenced and released in 2016, after spending 16 years in prison.

Now she’s travelling the world, meeting global leaders like former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in 2017 and French President Macron at the end of 2021. Continuing to campaign against the death penalty.
Performing at a world-class level
In July 2021 our University of London law degree students were shortlisted in the annual Nelson Mandela Moot Court Competition, against teams in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean and Europe.

“My status is shaping me and preparing me for a bigger position in the future when I’m finally released. In prison, I lead a huge number of people with different religions, age, status and from different locations. Managing them well prepares me for a bigger dream, for my law career.”

Betty Florence, current law student studying from Luzira Women’s Prison, Uganda.
“When I just joined Uganda Prison Service, I thought my work would only be limited to holding the gun, but with Justice Defenders work, I am now able to guide inmates in respect to their legal matters.”

Daniel Emuget, paralegal prison officer at Luzira Upper Prison in Uganda.


We value radical kinship

Jacinta Nyambura on the week of her release in June with fellow paralegal, prison officer Grace Maina.

unlikely allies

We courageously act for a new and better world.

Incarcerated people and prison staff offer unique perspectives on legal systems. Yet their experiences are rarely listened to, until now.

Who would imagine prison officers going to court to advocate for incarcerated people and win them their freedom? 

In our legal offices, prisoners and prison officers work together with common cause. As a team, they ensure everyone who is brought through the prison gates has access to justice.

We seek allies out of adversaries across the system. Together with prosecutors, the police, judges, experienced lawyers, policymakers and academics we create remarkable possibilities for good.
"Seeing officers and inmates working together to serve their community is a real example of social cohesion and dedication."

Dr. Saikou K. Gasssama, Executive Secretary of National Human Rights Commission, The Gambia.
“Together we are ensuring that those who are guilty are taken through the entire justice system in a just, procedural and fair way. Most importantly, together we help ensure that no innocent party has been convicted for an offence he did not commit.”

Hon. Ashiambo Ualerie Emelsa, Magistrate at Thika Court, Kenya.
“By empowering the accused persons, it makes the work of the prosecution very easy because these people get to know of their rights and they're able to articulate their issues and appreciate that the system is really not punishing them, but just providing them an opportunity to correct the wrong they might have committed.”

Jacqueline Njagi, Assistant Director of Public Prosecution and Head of Sexual and Gender Based Violence Division, Kenya.

"There is strong evidence that the quality of work produced by students and
graduates is high, even comparable with private lawyers."

Independent evaluation of Justice Defenders' Legal Education Programme by Justice Studio in July 2021.
In August, one of our longest serving paralegals Richard Mawadri (centre) celebrated his release with some of the Justice Defenders team alongside Sergent Owani from the Uganda Prison Service.

“Before I was prosecuted, I was in court and I wanted to ask a burning question but I didn’t know what to do so I failed to ask it because I didn’t understand court procedures. I felt everyone goes through the same experience, my conscience pushed me to train as a paralegal. I am so proud of what I am today.”

“Paralegals play an integral role in trying to give those [in custody] legal advice which will then result in fair processes... Even those who cannot read or write. You see that they were guided through their statement. So they even tell you, “in paragraph three of that statement - I've been taken through my statement - I know that paragraph three says this.” And when you look at the statement, their question will be based on that particular issue. They do not ask irrelevant questions.”

Chief Magistrate AbdulQadir Lorot, Kenya.
On the day of his release, Richard takes a final look at books at the legal office in Luzira Prison, Uganda.

Our investments in 2021.

“You are successful when you remember that somewhere, someone gave you a gift.

In April, Joyce Wanja Gitau celebrated her release with the paralegals who provided her with legal services at Langata Women’s Prison.

Dare to believe

“You are successful when you remember that somewhere, someone gave you a gift.

In April, Joyce Wanja Gitau celebrated her release with the paralegals who provided her with legal services at Langata Women’s Prison.

Our trajectory towards serving one million clients by 2030.

Cumulative clients served.

Our cost to provide access to justice.

USDs per client served.

Our investments in 2021.

** We do not anticipate any significant changes to the figures but await our 2021 audit.

Dare to believe that you, too, can play apart in creating a world where justice exists for everyone

We’re working towards a world where each of us is equally accountable to and protected by the law.

Your donation fuels the defence. 
93% of programme clients agreed or strongly agreed that the legal support they received allowed the court to give them a fairer hearing, in comparison to if they had received no legal support.

Independent evaluation of Justice Defenders' Legal Education Programme by Justice Studio in July 2021.
The Advocates

You are a fearless and audacious philanthropistwho donates to the core of the organisation.

By joining us, you will be in the company of like‑minded global donors. You will enable us to unlock talent, expand our team, and investdeeply in communities that others won’t.

Learn more about the community or book a meeting with our Chief Development and Communications Officer:

Jena Lee Nardella.
jena@justice-defenders.org
"Seeing officers and inmates working together to serve their community is a real example of social cohesion and dedication."

Dr. Saikou K. Gasssama, Executive Secretary of National Human Rights Commission, The Gambia.
“Together we are ensuring that those who are guilty are taken through the entire justice system in a just, procedural and fair way. Most importantly, together we help ensure that no innocent party has been convicted for an offence he did not commit.”

Hon. Ashiambo Ualerie Emelsa, Magistrate at Thika Court, Kenya.
“By empowering the accused persons, it makes the work of the prosecution very easy because these people get to know of their rights and they're able to articulate their issues and appreciate that the system is really not punishing them, but just providing them an opportunity to correct the wrong they might have committed.”

Jacqueline Njagi, Assistant Director of Public Prosecution and Head of Sexual and Gender Based Violence Division, Kenya.
93% of programme clients agreed or strongly agreed that the legal support they received allowed the court to give them a fairer hearing, in comparison to if they had received no legal support.

Independent evaluation of Justice Defenders' Legal Education Programme by Justice Studio in July 2021.
86% of programme clients agreed or strongly agreed that the legal support they received positively affected their wellbeing.

Independent evaluation of Justice Defenders' Legal Education Programme by Justice Studio in July 2021.
92% of programme clients agree or strongly agree that they now feel encouraged to participate in educational opportunities in prison.

Independent evaluation of Justice Defenders' Legal Education Programme by Justice Studio in July 2021.
JOIN THE ADVOCATES

Dare to believe that you, too, can play a part in creating a world where justice exists for everyone

You are a fearless and audacious philanthropist who donates to the core of the organisation.

By joining us, you will be in the company of like‑minded global donors. You will enable us to unlock talent, expand our team, and invest deeply in communities that others won’t.

Learn more about the Advocates community or book a meeting with our Chief Development and Communications Officer, Jena Lee Nardella:
jena@justice-defenders.org.