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Covid-19 Response: A Three-Part Plan

April 27, 2020

Covid-19 Response: A Three-Part Plan

Hello Justice Defenders community-

This video is to update you on our response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

I hope this finds you and the people that you love safe and well. The pandemic came closer to home this week for me as one of my uncles sadly died from this disease. As Justice Defenders, we're passionate about keeping the wheels of justice turning and defending the defenseless at a time of global crisis.

Our response to the pandemic will be three-fold.

Firstly, we will work to decongest prisons in Uganda and Kenya. Now more than ever, we believe that no one should spend a day longer in prison than is necessary. In Kenya and Uganda, there are tens of thousands of people in prison because they're too poor to pay a debt or a fine. Sometimes these fines are as low as £20. On average they’re about £200. The consequence can be many months or years in prison for minor offences. We launched a fines fund to address that. Support our compassionate release campaign.

Secondly, we are asking what role can technology play to keep the wheels of justice turning now and in the future? In prisons like Naivasha, Thika, and Machakos in Kenya, our prisoner and prison officer paralegals have been involved in virtual Zoom courts, using laptops and modems provided by us. We plan to spearhead a coalition to advocate for the use of technology to deliver speedy summary justice in Uganda and Kenya, now and after the pandemic. We believe this can be a powerful way of keeping the wheels of justice turning and reducing huge backlogs of people awaiting their day in court.

Thirdly, because we recognise that talking about justice becomes irrelevant if people are sick and dying in prison, we're committing to a health and humanitarian response. Working through partners – whether aid organisations, corporate partners, or institutional funders – we’ll seek to equip Kenya and Uganda Prison Services with PPE and sanitary items to keep prisoners and prison officers safe. Around the world and in the UK, we’ve seen prisoners and staff dying from this dreadful disease. We're committed to working to defend those who can't defend themselves.

You can support our campaign in three ways.

The first is by funding our fines fund which we launched this week. We're looking to raise £120,000 to pay the fines of 600 petty offenders and debtors we know by name. Please support us in reuniting these families. Some of them – like my wife – are coming towards the end of pregnancy and wondering what it looks like to give birth in the midst of a pandemic. Others are very elderly, living with HIV, AIDS, and other diseases – more vulnerable than ever in prison. Please help us to get them home.

Secondly, we're looking for individuals and partners to come together with us in the op-ed piece that we will be writing in May, advancing ideas around how technology can speed up access to justice now and in the post Covid-19 world in East Africa and beyond. Will you join our coalition advocating for a tech response?

Thirdly, we're looking for partners to provide PPE and sanitation materials to prisoners and prison officers to prevent deaths from those who can't defend themselves.

I believe that we can look back on this time with satisfaction seeing that we've been able to elevate those facing injustice and to defend those who aren’t able to defend themselves.

Thank you for being a part of our community. Thank you for the generosity with which you've journeyed with us to date. Until we meet again, I wish you and the people you love continued health and safety.

Alexander McLean
Director General and Founder