The youth of the world are moving into action in such activities as the Arab Spring and the Occupy Wall Street. We must catch the dreams of the youth of the nations.

Recall the magnificence of earth and how we have greedily taken its resources. Recall the magnificence of the human being and how we often mistreat each other.

Here we are, on a small bit of dust circling a fairly insignificant star in a secluded section of the Milky Way. We have evolved enough to damage the waters of our planet . We have harmed the air with overproduction of carbon dioxide. The weapons we have designed can kill all that lives.

The earth is a holy place, a sacred space. It is not given to us to tear apart with our petty hatreds and our self-love or false desires for fame and wealth. We are to build the earth.

So many young people along with their dreams have been treated roughly and even put in prison for supposed misdeeds or misguided thoughts. For example, in many nations there is the problem of pretrial detention. For minor crimes or even merely out of suspicion, a nation’s police are given the authority to arrest and imprison both foreigners and citizens. Once in prison, there may be no suitable justice system to examine the prisoner, and so he or she can remain in prison under indefinite detention. Some individuals suffer this indignity for years, undergoing disease, starvation, and even torture..

What could we do with unruly youth? Every nation should make a Social Protection Floor that contains an education package and a health package for all of their youth. Prisons, refugee camps, and slums for the youth of the world are not the answer. Things like education, job training, mediation circles and Alternatives to Violence Workshops do help.  Every nation should resolve to elect leaders who are willing to thus build the beloved community. There should be no more war! No more militarization! No more oppressive prisons! More compassion, kindness and respect; companionships of empowerment for those in need.

Communities can also be enhanced through the use of music, songs, orchestras, and even art exhibits. A community with no art is a community without soul!

Given the opportunity to experience understanding of their trauma and to discuss their pain, a nation, tribe, corporation, or individual can learn empathy for others and expand their activities to show concern and support empowerments. More jobs can be created in the energy field that would build solar power, wind power, communication devices, and Habitat homes to transform slum areas.

We are designed to build a community that will hold the earth together. Only humanity can do this, as we are the beings that are here on the earth to do it. We are a ship load of people riding through space. We can bail out the ship from within. We have many resources to do the job. Yes, we can! Let’s do it!

Cora E. Cypser


Prisoners are disabled before, during, and after imprisonment; they are disabled by drugs, by lack of education, by reading problems such as dyslexia, by being born into below-level economic situations, or by being subjected to various other personality disturbances.

The UN estimates there are 500 million persons around the world affected with disabilities. There is a UN Bill of Rights for the Disabled that can also apply to the prisoner, the slum dweller, and the refugee. The majority of persons with disabilities live in less developed countries where the risk of impairment is greater for those without medical resources or safety nets.

In the United States alone there are over two million people incarcerated in prisons and jails, and more under the control of judicial authorities. Just visualize these people for a moment. It is hard to think about two million people all at once. Ninety-nine percent of them are impoverished. Rich people who can afford good lawyers usually escape undergoing imprisonment.

These impoverished people in the prisons of the world are human beings. They have human rights. The majority of these human beings are citizens and are protected by The Constitution of the United States. How do we justify denial of human rights and values to these poor, while allowing the rich to slip through United States’ Constitutional Rights and United Nations’ Human Rights? Where have we gone wrong in interpreting our ethical values?

What is true about the United States’ prisons is also true about the prisons of the other nations of the world. Many nations regularly detain some of their citizens as political prisoners. Other judicial systems confine people suspected of a crime or condemned by a third party. Many of those suspected of wrong doing never get a hearing, but stay in prison until they die. Most of our religious systems emphasize forgiveness of misdeeds and errors. As one rose does not make a summer, neither does one gigantic error make a person into a monster. All of us make mistakes.

We would like to believe that there is a possibility of forgiveness for our past irresponsible actions and room for degrees of healing. These condemned persons have a genetic makeup similar to ours. All offenders are members of our created human order, the world community, and assisted by their input, we should plan for their release from prison and a positive relationship with society. We should seriously consider their human rights to decent wages, voting, education, health care, and their right to life (as opposed to the permanent poverty or the death penalty).

What are the root causes for the poor being punished with imprisonment? If the poor were given good education, if they were somehow trained and established in reasonable employment, they would be less tempted to use drugs and defend themselves with weapons. Once a person has been discarded into the prison system, he or she finds it difficult to return to normal society.

International CURE is pressing for a Social Protection Floor for the poor of all nations. CURE suggests that Education is better than Incarceration, that a Social Protection Floor is more effective than having worries about starvation and homelessness, and that forgiveness and sympathy work better than isolation and torture. With a Social Protection Floor and positive education those who are incarcerated and poor will be enabled to find their way to a more normal life.

Cora E. Cypser




Mass Incarceration, Harsh Punishment and Confronting Injustice:
The Demand for Global Reform.

By Bryan Stevenson

I believe that each person is more than the worst thing he or she has ever done. Our lives, our purpose and our value as human beings cannot be reduced to a single act, even an act that is tragic with profound and devastating consequences. No one is only the crime they commit. For me this conviction has evolved over 25 years providing legal assistance to condemned prisoners on death row and challenging extreme sentences imposed on marginalized people, especially the poor, children and people who are disadvantaged.

 Mass incarceration and the politics of fear and anger have made America’s criminal justice system increasingly unreliable, less responsive to error and frequently corrupted by the abuse of power. Aiding people who are wrongly convicted or sentenced and pursuing reform of policies that unnecessarily contribute to despair, inequality and injustice has always felt necessary and essential.

 I believe that America’s history of racial discrimination and the legacy of slavery, racial terrorism and segregation continues to cloud our ability to treat all people fairly. We have not truthfully confronted the costs, the trauma and the burden that our ugly and brutal history has created and we have not fully committed ourselves to eradicating the bigotry and bias that has been bred and tolerated in our country. So, my work has also focused heavily on eliminating and challenging racial discrimination and thinking about remedies and recovery for disempowered communities of color that are demoralized and discouraged.

Finally, I am persuaded that extreme poverty cannot be reconciled with justice. Poverty in America is frequently a consequence of failing to protect basic human dignity and an abdication of our responsibility to meet the basic needs of everyone. There are economic and social structures and political conditions that frequently create, sustain and perpetuate extreme poverty that must be re-examined and reformed to create a just society. This has thus become a focus of my work.

 In 1989, we began a non-profit law project in Alabama which has grown into the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI). My life and work at EJI has at times been extremely challenging and overwhelming. There is a profound absence of hope in many of the jails, prisons, courtrooms and communities where I have worked. I’ve seen many despised and broken people condemned, discarded and destroyed by fear, anger and ignorance. I’ve seen bigotry and discrimination undermine justice and fracture the lives and aspirations of too many people. I’ve also seen violence and despair create tragedy and needless victimization.

However, I’ve also been extremely fortunate. My life and work has been enriched by people whose humility and perseverance knows no measure. I have been the beneficiary of untold acts of kindness and mercy. I have been granted more grace than I deserve.

Dostoyevsky wrote that “truth crushed to Earth shall rise again,” and I have witnessed that phenomenon in some of our cases. Martin Luther King proclaimed that “the moral arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice” and I have experienced that in our struggle to help the poor and the condemned. Jesus said that one day “the first shall be last and the last shall be first,” and I have seen this transformation in communities where hope has been resurrected and the powerless have found their voice.

 It is a privilege to advocate for human rights and to fight for the dignity of every human being. I am blessed to stand with incarcerated people, the poor, the disabled, even the despised and rejected on death row. I am persuaded that you judge the character and civility of a country not by how it treats the rich, the privileged and the powerful. Rather, you judge a nation by how it treats the poor, the imprisoned and the condemned. And so, the work goes on.


Presented By Pastor Vincent Omegba
Of The Redeemed Christian Church Of God & Hope Hall Inc, Aurora Colorado.

Religion was once called the Opium of the masses by the German Philosopher Karl Marx.  Drawing from this  dictum, other  Philosophers who saw how religion was being used to control, oppress and manipulate the people further pushed the idea  that “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of  soulless conditions” to a level that portrayed its adherents as incapable of redemption at least by their faith or religion. They are perceived as having minds altered by the power of the drug called faith.

This is only half truth, in the sense that religion or any value or belief system is capable of good and bad uses. A very high percentage of the world population believe in some higher power as expressed through the world major and minor religions.

As a Christian and a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I have observed that true adherents do things that portray them as having altered minds. For instance, it takes an “altered mind” to forgive your enemies and do good to those who despitefully use you. It takes an “altered mind” to visit prisoners especially in developing or under-developed countries with very deplorable living conditions.

It certainly takes an “altered mind” to provide housing, clothing and food for people who have raped, maimed, robbed, abused and destroyed the lives of other members of the society.

While the normal or natural mind would prescribe punitive response to crime and criminals, an “altered” or spiritual mind will prescribe redemptive response without minimizing the pain, horror and negative consequences of the criminal act.

The Christian approach to criminal justice is a combination of punishment and reformation. This is based on the belief that God can change the vilest criminal to become a responsible member of the society. Giving  opportunity for serving prisoners, ex-convicts and especially those jailed wrongfully to be rehabilitated is not only a mandate for true Christians ( Matthew 25:31-46; Isaiah 61:1), it is also beneficial to the society that stands to reap the good that could come from these reformed members.

The Bible sees punishment as expression of love. It says it is the son the father loves that he chastises.

With the premise established above, I most humbly submit as follows;

  1. Churches should be first responders to disasters whether natural or man-made. We often quickly send help to victims of earthquakes, Tsunamis, flood, epidemic and hazards, but our response to ex-convicts’ rehabilitation and re-entry into the society is abysmal.  The rate of recidivism is very high because a well thought out plan is not made to help them overcome the culture shock they experience once out of the prison. The prison system has its culture and the longer people are incarcerated, the more cut off they are from the society’s culture, norms and values. They need to be taught how to get back into the society by people who are not going to stigmatize, ostracize and condemn them. “Safe haven” should be provided for them by their faith groups away from the environment that fester their anti-social behavior. A loving church or religious group/ family is best equipped to provide the needed support. Housing, education, jobs and means to reconnect with family members should be provided. Providing housing in the same crime infested neighborhood that may have encouraged their criminal behavior has proved to be counterproductive. The current half way house system that house ex-convicts together is not good enough as they still harbor the institutional way of thinking. A housing system like the “Next step housing at Hope Hall” of Hope Hall Inc based in Aurora Colorado is highly recommended. This model which is Christian faith based established by The Redeemed Christian Church of God, Dayspring center, Aurora CO places ex-convicts in  homes populated by regular people without criminal background who are loving and patient enough to provide support to the ex-convicts and help them reintegrate into society. Here apart from housing, substance abuse counseling is offered, education and job training is offered, spiritual counseling is also offered as well as community service.

     The success of this model is based on our values which are Christian, freedom of our residents to attend any church of their choice, collaboration but not assimilation and interdependence.

  2.  Faith groups and churches should assist members in finding ways to actively participate in social transformation process through community service. The more members find needs in the society and fill them, the more they will find value in themselves and cultivate healthy ways of being useful to society even as they in the process make life worthwhile for others.
  3. The growing dissatisfaction, divisions, conflicts and frustrations in the church could be eliminated if leadership empower their members so “their hands can find things to do” for the less privileged.
  4. Churches should be intentional about community service like rehabilitation and reformation of prisoners by establishing support services like housing, jobs and other social welfare programs instead of looking to the government alone to provide these services. Instead of building huge monuments and cathedrals, churches should build lives. We are called by the Bible to be repairers of breaches and restorers of desolate places and lives.
  5. Churches should jettison denominational differences and find ways to collaborate by sharing information, resources, ideas and funds to address the injustice in our criminal justice system especially prison congestions, long pre-trial detention, dehumanization and other ills in the system. In Nigeria PFN (Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria) and CAN (Christian Association of Nigeria) should work with other non affiliated groups and NGOs to forge an alliance to lobby the government for reforms in the prison and criminal justice systems. The call is for collaboration or integration and not ecumenism or assimilation which doctrinal differences will not allow.  The main line denominations like the Catholic, Methodist and Anglican churches should open their doors to their Pentecostal and Charismatic brothers so that they could glean from their experience in this field since they have been involved much longer.
  6. Christian churches should find ways to interface with other religions like Islam in alleviating these problems and assist each other by sharing ideas, logistics and funds so that greater good could be done for more people.
  7. Existing organizations like CURE should be considered “good soil” to sow. Church leaders should encourage their members to support such groups financially and in other ways so that more people will be aware of these unacceptable practices and injustice in our criminal justice and prisons system.

 Let me conclude by saying that there are a lot of people who have committed crimes and done things that should have landed them in jail but were either not caught or managed to escape imprisonment. They should see themselves in these prisoners and ex-convicts and rise up to support them.

 Thanks for the opportunity to be a part of this conference.
Vincent Omegba
Pastor, The Redeemed Christian Church of God, Dayspring Center
President, Hope Hall Inc
16748 E.Iliff Ave, Aurora CO 80013.


The Role of the Churches and Mosques
in Criminal Justice System/
Prison Reforms

                                                By Fr Enyeribe Oguh, SJ


Strong Legal/Moral Education and Practice

Good laws are made to benefit the society at large. At the same time, laws are indicative of the imperfections of the human society. If humans were angels, laws would have been totally pointless as men would by their nature know and do what is right always. Hence, laws help to regulate human behaviors and to control unseemly human excesses. As Martin Luther King, Jr. says, laws may not make a man love me, but it can stop him from lynching me. One becomes a criminal by being convicted of breaking the criminal laws of the state. The churches and mosques have an urgent role of educating their members on the stipulations of laws and statutes of the state. Sometimes some people commit crimes out of ignorance of the laws. But before the magistrate, ignorance of the law does not usually stand up as a strong defense. Ancient Romans had this saying, ignorantia leges neminsu non excusat (ignorance of the law excuses no one). Since the churches and mosques are places where huge numbers of the citizens gather frequently, efforts should be made to inform them about the dictates of the constitution of the land. Rather than teaching only about the laws of God in the Bible or Koran, pastors, priests, and Imams can also use the pulpit or other means to inform their followers about the laws of the land. It is almost treasonable felony for Christians or Muslims to know so much about the laws of the ancient Israelites and the Arabs in their Holy Books, but know very little about the laws of their own homelands.

 One of the raison d’être of religion is to aid people to live a good moral life. Hypocrisy in the practice of the moral dictates of the Mosaic laws was condemned by all the prophets from Moses to John the Baptist. Jesus redefined the laws and strongly repudiated pharisaic attitude to morality. The Qur’an received by the Holy Prophet Mohammed states in many clear terms that the way to paradise is through the practice of morality and not by careless living. The churches and mosques, therefore, should not only teach but practice what they believe. On this score, churches and mosques need to ensure that their ministers are given sound moral and excellent integral formation for the growth of their organizations and the human society. As leaders their influence, attitudes, and actions would seriously impact on their followers and the society. Mahatma Gandhi once famously stated that if Christians truly practiced the teachings of their Master, Jesus Christ, he would have been tempted to convert to Christianity. Majority of the people in the Nigerian prisons are probably not pagans but Christians and Muslims. Of course, one reason for this is that majority of the populace are either Christians or Muslims. But the truth is that if the majority of those behind bars in Nigerian prisons were faithfully practicing the moral principles they were taught in Sunday schools, catechism classes, or at the Madrasah Islamiyyah a good many of them would not have ended up in the prisons today. Thus, religious organizations should intensify efforts to teach their members not only religious dogmas but also sound moral principles. Above all, the leadership of these organizations would help the criminal justice system greatly by taking the lead in observing the sound morality that they teach.

 Growing the Human and Socio-economic Capital

Poverty is one of the primary causes of conflicts and a strong inducement to commit crimes. It is a major obstacle to peace, justice, and the rule of law. A person cannot live a normal life or submit entirely to the law if he/she is unable to find enough food to survive. Most people spend their entire lives struggling to make ends meet. Yet for many, these ends never meet. Aware of the universal indignity of poverty, the United Nations has singled out global “Poverty Eradication” as one of its key Millennium Development Goals. Perhaps when this is achieved the level of crimes in the society will astronomically decrease, but presently a huge fraction of humanity live below the poverty margin. In fact an influential economist, Paul Collier, has made a strong case that more than a billion people in the world (mostly from the so-called third world countries) currently live below the poverty margin of less than one US dollar per day.  Several factors account for this, including: historical injustices, high mortality rates, the  scourge of HIV/AIDS, high infant and maternal mortality rates, harsh global economic policies, high unemployment rates owing to non-existent jobs and lack of marketable skills. Where do the churches and mosques come in here?

 Early missionary activities in Africa gained an impressive and lasting foothold on the continent not by the force of arms (a colonial technique that failed neither to impress nor endure), but by establishing many schools, colleges, and hospitals. Several pioneer African educationists and nationalists were the products of these missionary schools. The same story is true of the advancement of Islam on the continent. The early Islamic traders and Jihadists who brought religion to Africa also founded Madrasahs not only to propagate Islam and the Qur’an but also to teach science and Islamic law. In many countries in Africa, the governments have taken over many of these schools but have been unable to maintain the high quality of teaching and learning that characterized these formerly mission schools. Although many churches and mosques have continued to establish schools, colleges, and universities, they should be encouraged by the government to do so by removing many of the petty bottlenecks that frustrate and atrophy genuine service. The churches and mosques, however, ought to draw from the original charism and objective of the missionary founders that saw education as a powerful means to empowering a people and not for impoverishing them for personal aggrandizement. In the course of my growth and formation, I have attended at least three Catholic or religious schools and I can attest to the high standard of teaching and morality in these schools. To date I have never heard of anyone from any of my former schools who has ended up behind bars. Such level of standards should be maintained and enforced in all private and/or religious schools.

 In addition, several churches and mosques are either an international organization or have international partners. This partnership can be used as a powerful means of attracting foreign aid or investment into several countries to sprinkle the socio-economic seeds on the ground. I know of many Catholic Archdioceses and agencies in Europe and the United States that have continued to support the initiative of many Catholic Bishops and religious organizations in Africa. For instance the CIDJAP [Center for International Development, Justice and Peace] – an organization that has brought tremendous development in Enugu state and founded by Fr Ike Obiora – could not have had so much impact without the consistent assistance from Misereor in Germany, Caritas in Rome, Catholic Relief Services in Ireland, and so on. These forms of initiatives and partnerships should be encouraged or explored by other religious bodies. If a youth is out of a job for a long time and has no foreseeable means of livelihood, he may be forced into crime as a last resort to avoid starvation. Or he may choose the Tunisian Mohammad Bouazizi option of suicide as a final protest against a suffocating system.

 Establish Justice and Peace Commissions / Justice and Reconciliation Clinics

 In response to the call from the Second Vatican Council for “some agency of the universal church to be set up for the world-wide promotion of justice for the poor,”[1] Pope Paul VI established the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in 1967. With his Apostolic Constitution “Pastor Bonus,” Pope John Paul II in 1988 changed the agency’s name from the Commission for Justice and Peace to the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. This Council which is now replicated in every Catholic diocese and parish with the name “Justice and Peace Commission” tries to promote the transformation of society based on the social teachings of the Church and the principles of equality, solidarity, human rights, and human dignity. Once it identifies a situation of injustice, or where human dignity is in chains, it strives to analyze the situation to understand the proximate and root-causes of the injustices, and plans actions or interventions to remedy the social order in the light of faith. Because the Commission has been such a breath of fresh air and a useful conflict management medium to the Church for more than forty years now, I make bold to recommend its model to other churches and mosques around the world. Several cases ranging from marital problems and domestic violence to land/property disputes as well as youth empowerment and environmental justice matters come before the Commissions. These cases are often treated with dispatch, confidentiality, compassion, and expertise that one does not often get from the adversarial system of the courts. Many of the complainants go home satisfied and even reconciled with their opponents. Simply put, the Commission is another form of Alternative Dispute Resolution method, but done with care and respect to the persons concerned, and often without consultation/service fees.

 Similarly, the South African model of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission [TRC] led by Archbishop Desmond Tutu presents itself as a practicable positive intervention in the criminal justice system for use by the churches and mosques. The TRC though not perfect served almost like a healing clinic to both perpetrators and victims following the democratization process in South Africa in the late 90s. Due to its popularity and apparent success, this model has been replicated in many countries recovering from a divided past, including Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. Churches and mosques can establish Justice and Reconciliation commissions or clinics with the objective of addressing instances of injustice and healing the wounds of conflict between their members and the larger society. As a clinic it would require the services of experts in the areas of law, psychology, and counseling. Local cases of religious violence between Christians and Muslims in northern Nigeria, for example, can be brought before such a clinic and if well handled can bring about reconciliation and even foster friendship in the embattled areas.     

 Mutual Cooperation/Collaboration not Confrontation

 Two major landmarks in the city of Abuja are the Abuja Mosque and the Ecumenical Center. These epic buildings are so close that the call for prayer by the muezzin could easily be heard by the Pastors presiding over a convention at the Center. Proximity in this case offers a good opportunity for cooperation and collaboration. Christianity and Islamic religion are both offshoots of ancient Judaism. This common origin should be exploited to forge a rapprochement between members of the two great faiths. In Nigeria, for instance, more than 90% of the citizenry are either Muslims or Christians. This indicates that any collaborative initiative by these two faiths will be a great force to reckon with. We have recently seen how committed people, in this case, Muslims in Tunisia and Egypt have been able to bring down dictatorial regimes to pave way for the enthronement of freedom and democracy. A similar force by Christians brought down the infamous regime of Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines during the last century. If these two faiths can seek close points of unity and agreement and de-emphasize the points of divergence and confrontation, the number of those who get locked up in prisons would most likely be halved. This new mutual understanding would hopefully reduce the incidences of religious suspicion, fundamentalism, wanton acts of terrorism, and would encourage respectful study or understanding of the doctrines and dogma of each faith.      

Collaboration would also enable Muslim parents to send their wards to Christian schools without fear of indoctrination or proselytization. A good example of this collaboration in Abuja is the Loyola Jesuit College at Gidan Mangoro which for the more than fourteen years of its existence has had several Muslim and Christian students receiving instructions from Christian and Muslim tutors alike. Yet each student is allowed to practice his/her faith with dignity and freedom. More of this sort of venture should be encouraged in other parts of the country and should in fact be promoted in all Christian and Muslim countries. Cooperation breaks down the barriers of miscommunication and distrust as well as opens the avenue for mutual celebration of identities and creeds. Churches and mosques should arrange and encourage many interfaith social activities among the youth. Such activities may include: sports, debates, quizzes, excursions, Justice and reconciliation clinics, and so on. It can also comprise joint business ventures, interfaith worship, and mutually sponsored pilgrimages to the Holy Land, the Vatican City, and Mecca. Since those who eat together do not usually eat one another, these combined exercises would hopefully ameliorate the fractious relationship between Muslims and Christians in multi-religious countries and around the world.

 A Moral Watchdog for the Society

 Every mature democracy operates by a system of checks and balances. This is often provided for in the constitutional three-tier arrangement between the executive, legislature, and the judiciary. But it can also be maintained in a balance between the ruling government and a strong opposition. The unholy marriage between the Democrats and the Republicans on many policy issues in the US system is a good analogy. Organized religion can offer yet another effective check on the excesses of the government. The churches and mosques should act like moral watchdogs keeping the government on its guard. The objective here is to ensure the politicians do not sell the citizens off for a pair of sandals. As watchdogs, they will be able to use their good offices to negotiate a fair treatment of the workers, prisoners, political opponents, and citizens at large. They can also raise their voices against government abuses of human rights or arbitrary use of power against the masses. When all cowers to state coercion, the churches and mosques ought to use their high moral capital to advantage all. For example, during the repressive regime of Flight Lt Jerry Rawlings in the 1980s, it was the Catholic Church by means of the Catholic Standard then edited by Fr Charles Palmer Buckle (now Archbishop of Accra) that kept the fire of hope alive in the citizens as it relentlessly attacked those nasty laws.

 In governments like we had until recently in Tunisia and Egypt, the churches and mosques had the onus of speaking up against government relaxation of the laws of the land to favor their families and friends. If the law prohibits the importation of certain substances or commodities like arms, narcotics, and so on, the religious organizations should then not sit and watch the cronies of the government trading and flaunting these contrabands. They are called upon to act positively to protect the moral soul of the nation against the dictates of a dictator or his/her cabal. Religious organizations should work with other Non-profit/Non-governmental organizations to oppose frequent or incessant imprisonment and/or torturing of opponents of a repressive regime. Similarly, the churches and mosques should also oppose the legalization of evil. Unjust laws should be made to appear reprehensible and be repudiated.

 Reforms and revolutions are often best done from within than from without. In order to truly influence the actions of the government, the religious organizations must also be ready to participate in political governance. Some churches to date are still averse to political participation of their members or in some cases of their leadership in national governance. This scenario disadvantages the churches and makes them outsiders in the shaping of the mind and mores of the political gladiators. It also limits their access to the goings-on on crucial issues of the state for which their support or opposition might have made a great difference.

REFORMS AD INTRA: Dynamic Prison Ministry

One area where the role of churches and mosques is strongly and practically felt in the entire criminal justice system is in the prison ministry. Imams, priests, pastors, and several faith-based peoples frequently visit with prisoners and detainees to share the word of God with them. I enjoyed this wonderful opportunity for almost two years as a young Jesuit novice. We always looked forward to singing, clapping hands, and praying with the inmates of the Oko and Benin prisons in Benin City twice a week. Besides conducting prayer services, some of us were also engaged in counseling the inmates. Sometimes we acted as courier services for them with the permission of the wardens to carry their letters to their families and loved ones. There were also a few times we brought food items, educational materials and gifts to the prisoners. Usually many churches, private individuals, and organizations bring food and gifts to the prisoners.

   Sadly, however, my prison ministry many years ago was basically pastoral and had little else beyond that. This is still what our Jesuit novitiate does till date. It is just about what most churches and mosques still do at the prisons, especially in Africa. The situation is so due to the fact that the prison authority has a set of regulations that controls what externs can or can’t do with the prisoners or in the prisons. For instance certain items like cigarette, drugs, alcohol, bottles, or weapons are prohibited as gifts to prisoners. Certain forms of messages cannot be taken out of or brought into the prisons by externs for the prisoners. The system is thus organized to ensure the maximum security of the prisons.

 All the same, there is still a great deal that the churches and mosques can do within the legal latitude allowed. Imams, priests and pastors every so often serve on the board of the prisons council in some countries. This affords an enormous opportunity to influence the local policies and current attitudes in the respective prisons. Several prisoners are daily exposed to various forms of abuses ranging from sex to verbal and physical violence, and torture not only from fellow inmates, but also from the prison wardens. The churches and mosques can lobby at this policy making level to ensure that these violations of human dignity are curbed or curtailed.

 In addition, the state of overcrowding, diseases, lousy diets, and poor sanitation is not strange to anyone who has ever visited any prisons in Nigeria. I believe that this scenario may not be much better elsewhere. In Ghana, for example, most of the prisons are still unbelievably the former Portuguese colonial forts and castles that were later converted to airless, dark, and gruesome slave forts for erring African slaves before they were shipped overseas. The Ghanaian government only raised the status of these former slave forts to medium security. Any situation in which human dignities are being violated, religious organizations have the divine mandate to act in favor of man. So, the churches and mosques need to rise up and challenge the government to treat prison inmates as images of God deserving of inalienable human dignity.

 A number of churches and mosques have been able to build churches, mosques, or secure some worship space in some prisons. This is noble. At the same time, a serious attention also needs to be paid to the socio-economic aspects of the inmates. It is strong to argue that the high incidences of recidivism result from little or no socio-economic equipment of the prisoners before they are released into the society. The government has the duty to rehabilitate the prisoners. One way of doing this is to assist them to acquire some hard skills before the end of their time in jail. But of course, many governments do not do well here. So, the churches and mosques should step in to supplement the efforts of the state by building vocation institutes in some of the prisons. Obasanjo’s government, for instance, commissioned an open university for the Lagos state prisons during his second term as the democratic president of Nigeria.

 Many people in the society view ex-convicts or indeed anyone who has spent some time in jail with much suspicion and disdain. Save in the case of high-profile political prisoners like Mandela or prisoners-of-war, most prisoners are often stigmatized or avoided by many people. One explanation for this is the fear of being attacked or victimized by the ex-jail bird, often assumed to have hardened up during his/her time behind bars. An arrangement can be made between the prison system, the families of convicts about to be discharged, and the church/mosque or religious affiliation of the convicts’ choice to prepare the people to receive the convict before he/she is released. He/she should also be made to commit to regular counseling or therapeutic visits with the ministers for a certain period of time. Similarly, not every minor miscreant should end up in jail. Some should be made to do some community service (as is done in the United States) that can be properly monitored by the government or by a designated religious organization. Yet as a deterrent to society, every concluded criminal case should be made to appear in a popular national daily, of course at the government’s expense. Public shaming is a strong deterrence against wrong-doing in many cultures, especially in Africa.


No society can exist without laws. Abrogate laws and all life will be chaos, miserable, nasty, brutish, and short.[2] Such a life is not worth living. To save humanity from this path of perdition and annihilation, laws are made by man (or received from God as the case of maybe) and given to the sovereign to implement for the good of all. In the implementation of these laws, sometimes errors are made and innocent people are wrongly penalized and their rights abused. Yet even the guilty also have rights and dignity that must be respected and preserved. This necessitates careful attention to both procedural and substantive justice on the part of state agencies. It also calls attention to frequent reforms in the criminal justice system. The condition of prisoners, ex-prisoners, and the prisons must be regularly reviewed.

 But neither laws nor the state agencies alone are enough to make life worth living in the state. Other institutions like the churches and mosques also have their roles to play. These can collaborate with the state to entrench and spread the values of morality in the heart of their members. Morality makes the man. A morally sound person will be less likely to commit crimes than an immoral person. Churches and mosques have the duty to live by their beliefs and professions. They also have a moral responsibility to empower their members through establishing initiatives like schools, health centers, and strong enterprises where the youth can be gainfully employed. An idle mind is the devil’s workshop. Finally, the churches and mosques can collaborate to form pressure groups able to negotiate with the state for the rights of suffering citizens and the rights of prisoners and ex-convicts.

[1] Vatican II. Gaudium et Spes, 90.

[2] Thomas Hobbes. Leviathan (1651). (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967), Part 1, Chapter XIII, p. 97.

The Ethiopian Justice System, Current Reform  Efforts, Assessment, and Recommendations.

By: Demelash Kassaye
Addis Ababa University
School of Social Work and Social Development

Executive Summery

This presentation focuses on the comprehensive justice reform program that Ethiopia has conveyed to bring an overall change on the entire service of the justice system delivered since decades.  In 1991, following many years of fighting led by various rebel movements, the Derg, as the Marxist regime which came into power in 1974 was replaced by coalition intent on establishing a democratic state.

A new constitution, enacted in 1995, provided a federal system of government in which sovereignty was to reside in “the Nations and Nationalities and Peoples of Ethiopia”. The new government soon embarked on a series of reforms designed to encourage the economic and social development of the country and reduce poverty. It was assumed that progress in these fields required to a complete overhaul of the justice system, allowing citizens to seek and obtain an affirmation of their rights as embodied in and guaranteed by the democratic new constitution. As is learned from state executive reports, it is found urgent to adapt its judicial system to the demands of the changing world economy, and political system.

 The main findings of the study described that the current legislative and regulatory procedures are streamlined in one system for fastening the trial process. To this effect, respecting the right that the Ethiopian constitution bestowed to the regional states to form their own justice system, the proclamation that legally constituted different justice organs clearly stipulated the existence of the national committee constituted in comprising the regional states and the federal government to work on matters related with restoring  justice in the country. The analysis of the present situations show that the current legislative and regulatory procedure is improved in resolving the fragmentation of the legal system, a lack of coherence between existing codes and laws and, as a result, an uncertainty as to the legal norm.

  To keep the continuum of the change, the house of representatives decreed to convey the Business Process Reengineering, whereby, currently, the Ethiopian Police, Prosecution, and Court are streamlined in one pattern, from which  the people are receiving justice from one office, which is equivalent to purchasing goods in one shop. This has brought the trial fasten and public satisfaction as well. However, though the penal code defines criminal liability, sanctions and parole, it is unclear whether there is a flow of information between the prison service and the police and Public Prosecution Service.

 Possibly the most important shortcoming of the prison system and police generally is the insufficiency of training. The lack of clear provisions regarding the relations between prison employees and the inmates, as well as the poor conditions of police stations and prisons are also grave shortcomings. The budget of the prison that the government expend to run the programs in prison homes should improve to a certain level to better serve errant in prison.     


Key Words: Ethiopia, justice, penal code, prison

Historical and constitutional background

After the down fall of the Marxist regime, of Ethiopia in 1991, the highly centralized system of the government was changed into a democratic and decentralized federal system. The constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia has been endorsed and adopted by the Nations, Nationalities and Peoples of Ethiopia, on 21 August, 1995. The constitution being confirmed by the participation of the people ensured to constitute a federal system of self determination of nine regions or states to which judicial and wide legislative and administrative powers are devolved.  The elected House of Peoples’ Representatives is predetermined by the constitution as law-making organ in all matters to the federal jurisdiction.

 The independence of the judiciary is protected by the Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. All the judicial functions of the two levels, the federal and state are left to the courts.  Three hierarchies have been in place in composing the Federal Supreme Courts, The Federal High Court, and the Federal first Instance. 

The same three-tier system obtains in each State under the names of State Supreme Court, Zonal or high court and Woreda Courts, (Comprehensive Justice System Reform Program Base Line Study Report, 2005). The Ethiopian Constitution has pronounced the legal provision to the federal and state legislatures to legally recognise the jurisdiction of Religious and Customary Courts. Besides, courts functioning in the form of Social Courts are serving the society even though they are not mentioned in the Constitution.

 The Ethiopian Justice System

In Ethiopian justice system, as is in any other country, the justice system is not restricted to the provisions of the constitution, defining the structure and power of the court. It extends to other organs lined in restoring justice in the country, which have the role of facilitating the functioning of the courts, are charged with law enforcement or reach law. All these facilitating the trial process are interlinked one to another. As a result, any assessment focusing on the reform entail these to evaluate the whole system how it operates to satisfy needs of the people regarding justice. Therefore, the Justice system of Ethiopia has been formed in embedding the law making institutions, Institutions Facilitating the Functioning of the courts, Institutions Charged with Law Enforcement and Law.

 Teaching and Research Institutions

The Law Making Institutions

Ethiopia is a democratic country.  Two Law making institutions are constituted by the constitution:  the House of Peoples’ Representatives and the House of the federation.  Its law making procedure refers to parts of the justice system.  The latter has indirect legislative function as it can determine civil matters, which requires the enactment of laws by the House of Peoples’ Representatives, (The FDRE, Constitution, 1995).

 Institutions Facilitating the Functioning of the Courts

As is known, the Ministry of Justice has the task to advise the Federal Government in matters related with law. It works on identifying causes for the appearance of crime, modus operand of crime and design intervening strategies to narrow the possible opportunities of crime to happen. In the national regional states, the justice bureau is in charge of these roles.

Institutions Charged with Law Enforcement

In law enforcement practices, three bodies are recognised under the Ethiopian Justice system, having different functions. They are the Public Prosecution Service, The Federal Police, and the Federal Prison Commission. The Public Prosecution Office is formed under the Ministry of Justice. It is legitimized by law to prosecute federal crimes before Federal and State Courts. The Federal Police is constituted under the Ministry of Federal Affairs, are responsible to investigate federal crimes at federal and state levels. The state police have the power to investigate crimes limited under their jurisdiction and co-operate with the Federal Police, if necessary. The Federal Prison commission is responsible to the management and administration of prisons and rehabilitation of convicts.  In the national regional states, the state prison commission is responsible to implement the roles expressed in above.

 Law Teaching and Research Institutions

The educational policy and strategy of the country emphasised to fill the scarcity of skilled manpower by training professionals in the stream of law. Therefore a number of public and private universities and colleges launched the program a years back. These provide legal education with the levels of Diploma, LLB, Masters of Law, and PhD in law. Besides of this, the Justice and Legal System Institute, established in 1997, undertake research activities to identify the major problems and recommend the way forward to satisfy needs and expectations of justice seekers.

 Current Reform Efforts

The current reform program carried out in the country has come with the most blatant deficiencies of the justice systems in the country. These were insufficient number of skilled and educated judges and public prosecutors, the inappropriate and inefficient administration of the courts, and the lack of clarity and coherence in respect of existing laws and codes (Comprehensive Justice System Reform Program Base Line Study Report, 2005). In these three major sectors, reforms were initiated and implemented.

 Training of Judges, other Justice Personnel, Police Officers and Prison Administrators

The reform program has proposed phases to gradually fill the gaps identified in the first preliminary surveys. Phases included in the implementation program were classified in three successive programs: providing training to judges, public prosecutors and administrators. The educational institutions selected in the program were the Faculty of Law of Addis Ababa University, and the Civil Service College, and the Ethiopian Police University College and Regional Police Training Centres. The programs of all the higher education institutions were aimed at upgrading knowledge, skills and attitude of low level judges and prosecutors during court recess time and enhance the competence of police personnel and prison administration officials. Newly established universities, sponsored by the central government are expected to offer similar upgrading courses, seminars and workshops in matters of law, criminal justice and criminology. The program has used the country to lessen the gap of qualified judges, police and prison administrators with certain degree.

Court Administration Reform

Various ways used by different countries were used to experience `the benefit of the reform in the court administration. Pilot projects were developed under the control of the Federal Supreme Court in collaboration with some donor agencies funding multifarious reforming processes. The program was extended to Federal and some State courts and it is eventually assumed to over widen the coverage of the program throughout the country.

Law Reform and Harmonization

The harmonization process and amending of the law were held in valuing the constitutional pillars of the country, in which Ministry of Justice and Legal system research Institutes managed to control the plan developed to its effect. The process has considered two crucial points which are codification and updating existing law and codes as part of this important process.

Assessment on Law Enforcement Institutions

Assessments of Each Justice Institutions problems are identified as the composing factors contributing to the failure of reaching improved service to justice seekers. Currently, many changes are achieved as though the outcome of Business Process Re-engineering is introduced in the public service program throughout the country, (Comprehensive Justice System Reform Program Base Line Study Report, 2005).

  The Public Prosecution Service and its structure

The public prosecution service is structured as the executive branch of the government. Proclamation 4/1995 known as the Proclamation on definition of powers and duties of the Executive Organs of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia set its structure where it is to be and therefore the Ethiopian Public Prosecutor Service has the Federal and state structure at the regions level.  

 The Police

The Ethiopian Police system is organized in two known as the Federal Police Service and nine national regional states and two councils of city administration.

The Federal Police

The federal police are legally founded with the proclamation number of, 313/2003. Article 6 of this proclamation defined the objectives of the commission as maintaining the peace and security of the public due considering the constitution and other laws emanated out of the constitution.

 The regional police

The Regional states are allowed to owe their own police force. Their structure is more or less similar with the structure used in the Federal Police. The respective state authorities have the power to assign the regional police commissioner. The regional services are also independent when it comes to administering and implementing the actual police work. 

 Relation between the federal and state polices

Both have relation in matters of developing operational strategies of the country in policing.  Therefore, the regional state polices frequently ask support of the federal police when is necessary. They have good relation in setting the recruitment criteria and training to produce skilled and trained police professionals.

 Police training method has shifted into active learning than the traditional lecture type of teaching method. The aim is to produce the police officers well aligned with the actual police work where it is on the ground. The federal police have got a training centre for Federal Police, a police university college where higher police officials of the whole country are trained and regional colleges and training centres where police staffs are trained for primary police work.

 Penitentiary System

The system is relatively young, compared to the Continental-European and Anglo-American systems. In 1994, a prison administration was established under the rule of emperor Haileselassie. During the Derg regime prisons were neglected and served as the place of imprisoning citizens those who are against the Marxist political ideology. After the fall of that regime, the current government has determined to reform the whole prison system.

 Structure and organization of the Federal and State Prison services

Federal Level

The Ministry of Federal Affairs is responsible to coordinate the work of prison administration. From Articles 51 and 52 of the Constitution it seems to follow that every single state has the autonomous power to organize and administrate the prison system in its own way, provided this is compatible with provisions in the constitution.

Federal prisons are located at Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa. The Federal Prisons have branches in Zeway, Robbit and Kaliti (Addis Ababa). Women prisoners are detained in separate units

 Observation and major shortcomings related to the Law Enforcement Institutions

The public prosecution

The shortage of prosecutors in the Ethiopian Public Prosecution Service, the failure of those that do exist to meet minimum qualifications, the lack of training, the appalling conditions in which they work, the backlogs which they face and other circumstances create a worrisome and alarming situation. A democratic federation requires a well-functioning criminal justice system without a weak link. In Ethiopia, even though, there are achievements scored from the reform program, it needs the office strive for the betterment of justice in the country. The Public Prosecution Service, however, showed encouraging results to improve the bad situation experience in the past.

The Police

It is common knowledge in Ethiopia that the police wrestle with a poor image caused from the police being an instrument to suppress the interest of the previous Monarchical and Marxist regimes. Despite of doing much to change this image is gradually improving. As history of the country tells, until 1991, the police was a means for the former regime to realize its objectives, which were often not in the interests of individuals’ citizens. Although the police have on the concept of community policing, and already operate to some extent on the basis of policing by consent, it will simply take a long time before this is actually acknowledged and recognized by the public. Nonetheless, the reasons for the public image should be viewed from two perspectives in which the public works as partner of police in areas of identifying police priorities and allotting resources to advance proactive policing.

To this end, the police have been demilitarized and military ranking has been abandoned. This maintains the positive image of the police not as a service of power and oppression rather than a public service-oriented.


The federal and state prisons systems have many shortcomings. I would just like to highlight the following ones


The most important shortcomings encountered the prison system are in the field of training i.e.

a)      Training offered to improve skill of civil prison staff is inadequate
b)      There is no special training on handling of custodians in police
c)      Trainings offered in police schools are not task oriented
d)      Scarcity of professional trainers in the field of law, psychology and

 Provisions to govern the relations between prison employees and the inmates

After the step down of the Derg regime, the police was demilitarized by law. The challenge encountered was to bring attitudinal change of police officers served the past two regimes for long. This has also been the case for prisons’ administration and prison police. Based on the observation made on the visited police stations and prisons, it is easy to understand that prison police are predominantly represented, and civilian staff is insignificantly present. Therefore, in the previous days, the administration of prisons and police stations is more of a military rather than a civilian character. This is clearly reflected in an attitude and mentality of prison police towards prisoners that is based on obedience and oppression, leading in some cases to human rights abuses. Despite of this, against from the aforementioned background, declaring clear provisions regulating the relations between inmates and the prisons administration not only avoid the earlier military mentality, it also gives wide room to avoid unfit practices to operate. This used to make the service of the parole well aligned with the international standards.

 Conditions of detention

The physical conditions of the visited police stations and prisons are intolerable in terms of hygiene, sanitation, health service, food and education facilities. Contrary to international standards and to Ethiopian laws, there is almost no separation of detainees based on the seriousness of crimes they have been convicted.

 A complicating aspect of the bad conditions of detention is the overcrowding of police stations and prisons. As a matter of fact, overcrowding in police stations and in prisons makes the justice system suffer for awaiting of trial, or pre-trial detention.

  Lack of Budget

There is no need for research or studies in order to conclude that police stations and prisons have been neglected for a long time. By the same token, it is obvious that the administration of prisons has lacked and currently lacks budget. 

  Way forward to prosecution, police and prison administration

  • The present reform program has scored change on the service of Ethiopian Justice, but needs to think of the progress how it can continue, so as to better serve the people.
  • The service that the police deliver should be in line with the philosophy of community policing and extend the service up to maintaining quality life of the people
  • The training manuals and methods of teaching should embrace some of the international standards, and interlink the cross-cutting issues of the institutions in phases of the training stages
  • The training given must focus on problem based and interactive learning in order to bring behavioural change among police and prison administration
  • Adequate resource relevant to education, health, and others should be in place to improve the management of inmates in prison   


Comprehensive Justice Reform Program. (2005). Base Line Study Report. Published

The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, 1995.

The Proclamation of the Ethiopian Federal Police, 2003.

Texas After Violence Project

persons affected by severe violence
by Celeste Henery, PhD

It is with great pleasure and honor that I am here on behalf of the Texas After Violence Project from Austin, Texas in the United States. Our organization documents the narratives of persons affected by severe violence in the state of Texas. We do so by video-taping our interviews and, with the author’s permission, we make them publicly available through our archive with the Human Rights Documentation Initiative at the University of Texas at Austin. We have interviewed family members of murder victims and executed persons, attorneys, judges, journalists, social service providers, activists, scholars, clergy, among others. Bringing this wide variety of voices into a common archive for the public record is part of our effort to complicate the conversation in the US and beyond around the effects of violence and the criminal justice system. Our interviews affirm that the impacts of violence ripple through society and that the two-sided urges of right and wrong do not advance our social conversation. Violence is a human rights issue globally and in constant need of voice.

 A large part of the ethos of our work is listening, the act of holding space for individuals whose lives have frequently been upturned, imprinted or mobilized around acts of violence.

Narrators must give consent to make their interviews public. This process requires patience and can be disappointing when final consent is not given, yet the interview i tself encapsulates the quiet work of bearing witness to stories, perspectives and experiences that often do not make it beyond the reductive American public discourses of victim and criminal, hero and enemy.

I am an anthropologist; I trust in the process and work of pursuing and listening to human stories. I became an interviewer for the Project because of my ethnographic research experience studying questions of mental health and race in Brazil and the US. My principal research focused on a group of older black women in an underserved urban neighborhood in Brazil who formed a singing group to improve their mental health. Almost all of the women were taking anti-anxiety medication and some had been institutionalized. Believing that drugs were not the solution, a  local activist put this group together to give these women a space to talk about the stresses of their lives which were not merely chemical, but came from the complexities of being single mothers, living in economic poverty, enduring violence and drug trafficking in the neighborhood and often their children’s involvement in the trade. Their narratives of visiting their sons in prison and the humiliation and fear they experienced gave painful shape to their life stories and flowed alongside their own bouts of time spent in state run mental asylums.

Listening to and recording these women’s accounts illuminated several realities. Of particular note was the trials of black people’s experiences, trajectories and time spent sustaining their mental health while interacting with State-run institutions that possess many of our society’s un-well. Spending time with these women also evidenced the power of giving voice to the stories of people rarely heard and whose understandings are seldom welcomed into the public record.

Fearful of being forgotten, the women agreed to be a part of my research because it was an opportunity to have their lives and stories brought into view. For me, their testimonies complicated what it means to be healthy or well in societies fraught with gendered racism, with populations lacking an understanding of mental illness, maintaining underdeveloped ideas of mental health, while at the same time relying on institutions to hold individuals whose behaviors they do not comprehended and don’t know how to alter.

Of the over 2 million people in state and federal custody in the US, experts believe that 500,000 are mentally ill. The statistics report that 16 to 25% of the prison population can be classified as severely mentally ill, in this case meaning they fit the psychiatric definitions of bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or major depression. Similarly, there are estimates that 70% of youth in youth detention centers suffer from mental health disorders. In Texas, of the 170,000 prisoners, approximately 10% of the prison population have a diagnosis of severe mental illness that would qualify as a “priority population” for mental health services (Texas Council on Offenders with Mental Impairments Biennial Report). Conservative estimates also reveal that 5-10% of death row inmates suffer from serious mental illness. The odds are 8 to 1 in Texas that persons with mental illness will be in prison rather than in a psychiatric hospital.

While race is not a factor in the prevalence of mental illness – that is, mental illness occurs in the same rates across race and ethnicity – its influence in the prison system is evident. Almost 70% of the incarcerated population is comprised of Black and Latinos even though they account for only 25% of the US population. There are significant gaps in the diagnosis and treatment of persons with mental illness by race. Yet, black people are more likely to receive their first diagnosis of and treatment for their mental illness through the prison system.

The picture I paint echoes what the women’s stories evoked: a vision of the painful intersection of questions surrounding race, mental illness and the criminal justice system. Moreover they gesture to the overlapping stories, frequently silenced, of mental illness within the black community and incarcerated persons with mental illness, both black and other. All together, this silence is staggering.

I now turn to a short case study from Austin. Sophia King was a dark-skinned 23-yearold mother of two, who was killed by a police officer on a June morning in 2002. She was shot at the public housing complex where she resided paying low-rent and struggling to hold a job in spite of her high school education. On the day of Ms. King’s death, a manager from the Housing Authority was attempting to document Sophia’s irrational and disturbing behavior, ostensibly in hopes of creating grounds for her eviction, and Ms. King was shot after she apparently went after the manager with a knife.

The early morning blaring music and the water found running from taps throughout Sophia’s house the day she died were nuisances to her neighbors and led them to refer to and fear her as “not right,” “a bully” and of course “crazy.” Her behavior no doubt warranted a call for assistance, however the descriptions of her likeability and notably her illogical ways of being expressed in the case never advanced into a substantive discussion of this woman’s illness.

There was no medication found in Ms. King’s bloodstream when she died; and the irony, I imagine, is that these ways of being were the iterations as well as the tools she was using, without medication, to handle all that she did not want to feel or hear –voices that may have directed her attention and rage towards the housing manager. It was a profoundly desperate and tragic morning.

Ms. King’s life ended abruptly and in crisis. Her death at the hands of a police officer sadly reads in the US like the inevitable end to a young, poor black woman whose police file was significantly larger than her psychiatric or medical records. While her runs-in with the police, according to news report, began in 1997, her diagnosis of schizophrenia and time spent at the state hospital did not happen until 2000. We can only guess at how the early manifestations of her illness could offer another prism through which to view her complicated and short life.

I am empathetic to the story of Ms. King because of how often stories like hers are not told, particularly if they end in incarceration rather than a public, violent death. Gabe, my partner in this presentation and who has worked for the organization since its inception in 2007, will go deeper into accounts of both TAVP interviews with persons or cases regarding the severely mentally ill and questions around mental illness within the criminal justice system. There is visible path that leads economically poor persons with mental illness, often of color, into the criminal justice system rather than into mental health care services.

Prisons can become spaces where persons receive mental health care, but they too are spaces that more often silence and simplify stories of mental illness and definitions of mental health. They are systems that sustain notions of fear, criminality and violence as dominant narratives that are privileged over the life stories of those individuals within their hold.

My work at TAVP seeks to continue the documentation of the less heard stories specifically those of people of color and mental illness within the criminal justice system. Providing a space for grieving parents to speak of their inability to get mental health care for their child before they wound up in prison, or attorneys’ vantages on criminal insanity as a defense in US courts, or the frequent references to the quantities of persons with mental illness on death row are just some of the stories that, when made public, can help to inform, teach and most compellingly, personalize and diversify the discussions on the institutions and social problems we wish to and must address.


Prison conditions:


By  James  Emile GBALLET
Executive Director of  Guinea CURE

 The first and second world war will have effects on the decision to reexamine the question of human dignity.

The aim to reach is the respect, the protect and security of human being at any level in the life such as the family area , the administration area, or in prisons.

What do we notice in Guinea prisons ?


In Guinea as wherever on the continent problems of prisons areas are generally the same: over population due to over aged prisons.

The Conakry Central prison built in 1958 was destined to receive 400 prisoners but today, more of 1200 several prisoners  live there.

The prison of Conakry, the biggest one, is not the same faced with such same difficulties.


The full number of prisoners create all conditions for many diseases.

In September 2002, at Conakry central prison , cholera is increased with three hundred (300) cases, Tuberculosis continues creating many damages.

At the central prison as the other ones inside Guinea for instance N’Zerekoré , Labé … ,malaria and breathing infections are a lot.

The same thing for A.I.D.S (Acquired Immune Defiance Syndrome) goes on and cause many victims.


In the central prison as the other  ones of Guinea, prisoners are  underfed ; a meal by day and that meal about three rice spoons bad quality and a few oil on the rice .That brings a lack of vitamin for their health ; 350 cases in 2003.


In all prisons in Guinea ,the prisoners are faced with problems of cleanliness. The prisons stink, disturbing the prisoners then cause problem of health. The Prisoners ²are not tended in prisons so they are not healthy at all.


In Guinea prisons ,there is no school program at primary level ,secondary level and highest level. There is no professional education or some lectures that could develop the ability of prisoners. That  could make them responsible towards the social community.


The prisoners in prisons are  forgotten to be judged so that they waste many times .They don’t  their rights or their duty and they hope one day to be  judged in vain. The last solution is escape from the prison.


The Guinea’s prisons are not the areas to re socialize  plenty of prisoners . Many are  released and put again in prison for having committed an offence. They are not able to be well bred and become use full for the society. Because the problem of education has failed during the imprisonment.

Seven(7) out ten(10) prisoners relapse.

Conditions of imprisonment in Conakry Guinea  are very difficult. It is one of Africa countries having many problems to satisfy people’s elementary needs.


In order to secure the respect of prisoners we  are going to establish a cooperation with the penitentiary administration so as to improve the conditions of imprisonment.

Knowing that the situation will be step by step improved , we shall struggle reach the aim; putting prisoners in the best conditions.

We shall make prisoners carry on a trade so that to be responsible, useful in the society after releasing.

To build some new in order to reduce the great number of prisoners in old prisons  in Guinea and to rehabilitate some of them in a bad state.

International  CURE  must sometime be present near by African CURE chapter. So that to prevent African governmental authorities from disturbing international rules of imprisonment.

The penitentiary administration will have educate penitentiary agents about how to respect the human rights of prisoners.

Man must respect the time of judgment of persons who come under the law. Don’t waste the time to judge somebody under the law in prison. Judging all prisoners beyond 10 years.

                                                                      I THANK YOU



By Jean Basinger, Iowa CURE

Thank you for giving  me the opportunity to speak about the important issue of safety for women in prison during pregnancy, labor, and delivery.   My remarks will be based on the  2010 report of the National Women’s Law Center and The Rebecca Project for Human Rights entitled, Women in Prison.  This is a state by state report card and analysis of U.S. Federal Policies on conditions of confinement for pregnant and parenting women.  It includes an analysis of state and federal policies on prenatal care, shackling, and alternative sentencing and Prison nurseries. It also includes those women in immigration centers. The report is an effort to help those who work with pregnant women in prison to improve the laws and policies regarding the treatment  the women  receive.

 As a way of introduction  I would like to mention my experience working many years as a labor and delivery room nurse,  and 12 years as a registered nurse on a chemical dependency treatment unit where we often had pregnant women who were court committed for treatment and were transported to court and medical appointments by the sheriff’s department and were required to wear shackles, handcuffs and heavy belly shackles.

 I have also been working with groups in my state in an effort to get effective laws passed regarding the treatment of pregnant women and girls. in state prisons, county jails, and detention centers.

 The report of the Rebecca Project focuses on four areas: 1. prenatal care, including proper diet, Medical exams, HIV screening, etc,  2. shackling of pregnant women during transportation, labor, delivery, and postpartum recovery,  3. family based treatment s an alternative to Incarceration, 4. Prison nurseries.

 Each state was asked to submit answers to a set of questions related to each topic and these  answers were analyzed and the states were given grades in each area.   Today I will share with you the section on the shackling during labor and delivery.   My state received a low grade in this area and is  now actively engaged in working to pass a law regarding this important issue.

 The questions asked regarding this issue were as follows:

 l. Does the state have a statute that explicitly restricts the department of corrections’ routine use of restraints during labor and delivery?   (Only six states have such a law.)

 2. If the state does not have a statue does the Department of Corrections have a written policy that adequately limits  the use of restraints on pregnant women?

 3… Does the state require training for individuals handling and transporting incarcerated persons needing medical care or those dealing with pregnant women specifically?

 4. Does the state have a high-level official responsible for determining whether a pregnant woman poses a security risk and needs to be restrained?

 5. Does the medical staff have input on the decision to use restraints and what type of restraints are used?

 6. Does the state require each incident where restraints are used to be reported and reviewed by an independent body?

 7. Does the state’s policy include consequences for individuals and/or institutions found to be in violation of state policy regarding the use of restraints?

 My own state of Iowa has no statue regarding the use of restraints.   We are in the process of trying to get a law passed that would prohibit the use of restraints on a pregnant inmate in labor unless it was determined by the Warden or another designated staff that she was a flight risk.

 The Department of Corrections has argued that they did not use shackles for women in labor so it was not necessary to have a policy or law prohibiting the practice. We disagree. We feel that this leaves the door open for staff to make a decision to use restraints  and also for a changes by the administration.  We also feel that it is not enough simply to have a DOC policy against this practice. We must have a law which will also include County jails, juvenile and immigration detention centers.   These are the facilities where there is most likely to be abuse due to lack of training and onsite medical staff.

 The shackling of women during labor and delivery puts the mother and baby at risk because it makes it very difficult for the woman to follow instructions of the medical staff and it can cause her distress which will be transmitted to the baby.  It also interferes with the ability of the medical staff to give medical assistance, evaluate the progress of the labor, and give emergency care.

Passing such a bill is just a beginning.  Proper training and monitoring for staff must be put into place in order to bring institutions into compliance.

 If you are not aware of the practices in your country regarding the care of women in your prisons and other detention centers during pregnancy, labor, and delivery, I do hope you will make an effort to investigate these practices, and to become an advocate on this issue.

 Jean Basinger, Iowa CURE
1335 48th St.
Des Moines, IA 50311
e-mail: Jean Basinger@gmail.com

Source: *The Rebecca Project for Human Rights-National Women’s Law Center, Women Behind Bars




 Prisons are defined as buildings where people are kept as punishment for crime they have committed or while they are waiting for trial. International CURE even believes that prisons are used only for those who absolutely must be incarcerated. From “long walk to freedom” Nelson Mandela states that prisons are designed to break one’s spirit and destroy one resolve.

Today, in spite of multiple sensibilizations and efforts made in our countries and all over the world, Human Right advocates still become indignant before the pitiful, inhumane, miserable and infernal conditions related to the prisons. For this reason, a need to carry out adequate and genuine prison reforms is necessary.


In our different countries the prison conditions generally show the same features. The case of Ghana is clear and easy to understand.

Ghana judicial system is run by the Supreme Court. The main department in charge of prison issues is naturally the Ghana Prison Service in cooperation with the ministry of Justice and the ministry of Interior. It’s worth mentioning  that Ghana is one of  the African countries that is a member of some International Treaties on Death Penality and Human Rights such as (OPCAT), Optional Protocol for the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Human or Degrading Treatment or Punishment ( has signed but not yet ratified) and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.

As in many African countries, it did not escape economic and social poverty. It’s naturally one of the grounds that affects the population greatly and leads a large number of people into prison.

The Ghana prison facilities accommodate all varieties of persons. We may find men, old people, and juveniles including foreigners. The majority of detentions derive from stealing, manslaughter, drug, robbery, fraud, murder, assault, threat of death, unlawful entry, conspiracy, rape, causing harm and defilement.

According to United Nations Declaration of Human Rights from Article 7, all are equal before the law and any kind of discrimination is prohibited; we all know that degrading and inhuman treatments are likewise unacceptable by the constitution; however the contrary is practiced within our prison centers.

Many fatal cases in detention centers are really lamentable and pitiful.

In prison, the inmates’ living conditions are very harsh. Due to the lack of means and corruption, indigent inmates are faced with unfair justice. Some inmate had been jailed for many years without being on trial. Let’s outline that inadequate remuneration of the prison staffs increases unavoidably corruption.

Prison facilities’ workshops do not exist. If by any chance we could find some existing workshops there, they are not equipped to reach the outcome of the inmates rehabilitation.

For a long time thousands of detainees have been living in places we may describe as ‘’ forgotten zones’’, much of the prison population is held in buildings that are originally colonial; they show an abandoned appearance. In dilapidated construction, the spaces are limited with poor ventilation and sanitation. In addition, medical facilities are inadequate and in most case non-existent.

We also point out that a greater part of inmates did not receive formal education before their incarceration.

As in many countries the issue of overcrowding still remains questionable in Ghana prisons. It is even a relevant issue that should be conscientiously dealt with in our prisons. From the Ghana Prison Service annual report the prison population has doubled from 2008 to 2010 and we presently reach an approximate prison population of 18,000 living in facilities designed to accommodate 4,000.

N’sawam Medium Security prison, the most important prison of Ghana built in 1956 to accommodate 717 inmates now has over 4,000 inmates. In the same way; 55 inmates can share a cell meant for 12.

Overcrowding is really a serious health risk for incarcerated persons.

In our detention centers, this fact of matter contributes to a prevalence of serious and communicable diseases such as AIDS, tuberculosis, Itch, cholera, cough, asthma and typhoid fever.

It is also regrettable to notice the frequency of suffocation, assaults between inmates themselves, homosexuality, lesbianism and sodomy in the midst of the incarceration areas.

Besides, bedding and clothing worries for prisoners still persist and they also do not eat according to their expectation.  The only provided meals and water are of poor quality. On account of food shortages, they are compelled to rely on their families or outside organizations for additional food and other necessities.

For decades our rulers have never been aware of voting that is one of the social rights of incarcerated persons. Unfortunately prisoners voting are a taboo issue in our country and in many countries of our continent.


In view of all those sad realities in the prisons of our country, we have to recognize that many works remain to be done in the field of prison reforms. Therefore some good and efficient measures must be taken to make credible our rehabilitation struggle on behalf of the prisoners. To fulfill this goal, we must all pay heed and be aware of the living condition of the prisoners regardless their social status.

Prison Reforms efforts must be absolutely based on some relevant Human Rights tools such as:

–    The  ‘’UN Standard Minimum Rules for the treatment of prisoners
         approved 31 July 1957
–    The  UN Declaration of Human Rights 1948
–     The Kampala Declaration on prison Condition in Africa
–     International CURE recommendations, March 16 2008, to the 
       Inter-American Human Rights  Commission.

Although the governments have committed themselves to improve prisons’ conditions, many things must be done again in several areas: adequate sanitary conditions, nutritional food, drinking water, hygienic facilities, suitable clothing, adequate medical service and education including skills development.


Fighting for the sake of the prisoners is surely a noble work. In the same way, all these recommendations will be more meaningful if existing budget and periodic subsidies are allocated to enhance Rehabilitation and Restoration efforts in our respective countries. 
It is a great challenge we should win by all means in our different CURE representations including other concerned Human Rights advocates.

The Mission is very difficult but not impossible

+233 546 973 093  OR  +233 274203671

Email: augustin.thecheck@yahoo.fr


by Maurice Alexander

My comments on pretrial detention are very much akin to all that have been discussed by the panelist that went before me. For the benefit of summary, I will reiterate our common themes regarding the challenges pertaining to Pretrial Detention. These obstacles are most acute in developing countries. I say developing because they do not impact developed countries to the same degree. These challenges are issues of poverty.  For example, in the United States and Western Europe, systems have well been established to deal with the issues of allowing poor people to be released on their personal recognizance, and that involving speedy trails. Even when pretrial detention issues become widely known, developed countries address them faster.

 Another example is when TB had begun to emerge in many jails and prisons during the late nineties. Within five years or so, the threat of people being released and spreading this decease to the wider community had been eliminated. I believe the same could be said about HIV-AIDS and other commutable deceases. Due to the degree of overall development, these countries are better equipped to resolve a pretrial detention question before it becomes a crisis.

Therefore, our focus is primarily on developing countries. The most common pretrial detention challenges these countries face, particularly in the post colonial countries, are:

  • Making pretrial detention practices consistent with international human rights standards
  • The waste of public, family and individual resource due to severely faulty pretrial detention systems.
  • Loss of confidence in criminal law enforcement
  • Questions involving conviction and punishment before trail (due to long-term pretrail detention)
  • Public health risk via contagious decease subject to be spread to the community at large

In the last analysis, these challenges are issues of poverty; hence the most poverty stricken countries experience the harshest pretrial detention conditions. Moreover, as we improve pretrial detention
conditions on a global scale, we move to eradicate the scourge of poverty, while enhancing poor peoples’ confidence and perceptions of their governmental systems.

I close my presentation with the offer of working with groups interested in establishing links with my office in Washington, D.C.