Prisons are mostly hidden places, unseen and rarely talked about. So we want to take you inside 12 of the prison communities where our defenders live and work.
When you look into these prisons, you will see stark realities. But also resilience, courage, and untapped potential. Like leadership skills in the prison staff room. And determination on death row.
Our hope is for a world where each of us is equally accountable to and protected by the law. And your support fuels the defence.
Take a look inside the 12 prisons below. Will you stand with us?
Machakos Main Prison, Kenya
Machakos was the first prison established in the rural eastern region of Kenya by British colonisers in 1929. It sits 64km from the capital city of Nairobi.
Ninety years after the prison was built, the in-house Justice Defenders legal office petitioned the Machakos Court. It sought a 1/3 reduction for all inmates serving determinate sentences, regardless of the offence. This was a big win, as it led to the declaration of section 46(1)(ii) of the Prisons Act as unconstitutional for denying remission to prisoners sentenced for robbery with violence.
Kampala Remand Prison, Uganda
Kampala Remand Prison was designed to accommodate 400 inmates, but currently is occupied by close to 1,600 remands (awaiting trial) and convicts with lesser sentences. Many inmates make candles and soap for utilisation around the Luzira Hill area, which sits 10km east of downtown Kampala.
In 2008, Alexander McLean and African Prisons Project opened Uganda’s first prison-based library here. It is the most accessible prison-based library, with 6,000 books and sufficient sitting capacity. Four hundred inmates access the library each month.
Thika Main Prison, Kenya
Thika was established in 1954 to hold both convicted and unconvicted offenders. It was later modified to accommodate capital offenders. Though the first batch of these inmates revolted and they were subsequently taken to Kamiti Maximum Security Prison.
One convicted Thika inmate now holds an LLB degree from the University of London. He's been so resourceful in drafting appeals and acquittals for clients, supporting awareness sessions, and facilitating paralegal classes. So the prison population has reduced from 900 to 554 in three years.
Kakumiro Farm Prison, Uganda
Kakumiro Farm Prison transitioned to a central government prison in 2008, but still lacks power and piped water. The premises are unfenced, and the facility is 1/3 too small to hold the current inmate population. Inmates are responsible for growing, preparing, and distributing all food within the prison.
Justice Defenders will soon bring a digital justice program to Kakumiro. The prison is in a far remote location, so virtual court will help solve the problem of moving inmates long distances to attend their proceedings – a pervasive barrier to justice.
Luzira Upper Prison, Uganda
Luzira Upper was the first maximum security prison in Uganda. It has a death row section and conducts all executions – the most recent in 1999. Luzira Upper is infamous for its prisoners, some of whom marched with Joseph Kony and flew Al-Shabaab’s flag.
Luzira uses a robust soccer infrastructure as a tool for rehabilitation. There are 30 pages of rules drawn up by the Upper Prison Sports Association. And a 10-team league with a knockout tournament that brings the entire prison to a shuddering halt. Of course, there is also the organisation of the teams, with names like Arsenal, Manchester United, and Liverpool.
Kamiti Prison, Kenya
Kamiti is one of Kenya’s seven maximum security prisons – constructed by the British in 1954 to contain offenders during a state of emergency. It still houses the original gallows, though the last execution of the death penalty was documented in 1987.
In 2015, the prison hosted the first-ever TEDx held in a correctional facility in Africa. More than 300 guests attended and international media such as CNN covered the event. And 10 speakers from both inside and outside Kamiti – including prison staff, inmates, and innovators from the technology and education sectors – talked on the theme "Loud Silent Voices."
Langata Women's Prison, Kenya
Langata is Kenya’s only maximum security prison for women, housing capital offenders from all over the country. The women are young, with most between 18 and 25 years old. They often spend years in remand before their court procedures even begin.
In 2016, Justice Defenders constructed a library to facilitate equitable access to information for the inmates. And established a child centre so 31 children born in prison could play and learn. Mother and baby learning groups are encouraged to support children with the much-needed, but elusive equity in education.
Naivasha Prison, Kenya
Naivasha opened in 1969 to alleviate overcrowding in Kenya’s maximum security prisons. Naivasha originally functioned jointly as a detention camp and remand – where detainees were used to repair roads, clean out drains, and clear undergrowth.
Today, Naivasha has the highest number of law graduates supported by Justice Defenders. Prisoners and prison officers share the responsibility of managing a library with books on criminal law. And by leveraging technology to conduct virtual law classes, learning has continued seamlessly throughout the pandemic.
Luzira Women's Prison, Uganda
First located where Butabika Mental Hospital is now, Luzira Women’s was once called Queen Victoria Prison Farm. It was moved in the 1960s to the current building designed to accommodate 300 inmates, but the occupancy level rises to 700 seasonally.
In collaboration with prison officers, inmates recently started a mushroom project for nutritional supplements for the elderly and terminally ill prisoners. And in 2019, the inmates and staff came together to sing, dance, and take part in sports and drama – commemorating International Women’s Day.
Kyakasegura Farm Prison, Uganda
Kyakasegura started as a local administration prison in 1989 with two semi-permanent wards for 13 convicts, and six thatched structures for six staff. In 2010, the Commissioner General at the time visited the prison. And after seeing its condition, he approved a more formal plan for a permanent building.
Kyakasegura still has no sickbay, is not fenced, and is inaccessible to courts and other facilities like hospitals. Prisoners walk up to 7km to access these much-needed services. But the presence of Justice Defenders has begun raising hopes and successes.
Kagadi Farm Prison, Uganda
Kagadi Farm Prison has a capacity of 70 inmates but houses more than 200 men and women with lesser sentences. The prison started at the Kagadi Police Station, and later shifted to its current premises in 2006.
The new facility was built with helping hands from people around the prison, but without power and running water. With the support of local politicians, Kagadi now has electricity and taps. And inmates are responsible for maintaining harmony and functionality of the units where they live – including growing, harvesting, preparing, and distributing food within the prison.
Kiambu Medium Prison, Kenya
Kiambu was built in the 1920s as a semi-closed detention center with a capacity of 300. As of March 2020, it held 514 inmates with less severe offences.
The facility offers rehabilitation programmes in carpentry, agriculture, and building. Male and female inmates are trained, take national exams, and are expected to secure jobs upon release from prison. And with the support of Justice Defenders trained paralegals, many petty offenders were able to change their pleas and obtain release during the pandemic – decongesting the facility down to 255.