In an effort to enhance the quality and standards for legal aid service delivery, DGF organized a meeting between Legal Aid Service Providers (LASPs) and the National Community Service Program (NCSP) on 10th March 2017. The meeting was aimed at facilitating synergies and establishing how LASPs can work with the NCSP to promote access to justice for poor and vulnerable persons in the criminal justice system and support prison decongestion through community service initiatives. It brought together over 40 participants including LEAP partners and partners that are funded by IDF and representatives from the Directorate of Community Service.
The Directorate of Community Service in the Ministry of Internal Affairs facilitated discussions in the meeting and increased LASPs’ knowledge of the way the Community Service program works. In his opening remarks, the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Internal Affairs Dr. Benon Mutambi noted that the Community Service Programme is one of JLOS’ reforms in the criminal system which can only be effectively implemented with support from different stakeholders including LASPs. He emphasized the Ministry’s commitment to work with all stakeholders who can contribute to the success of the NCSP. On his part, the Director of the National Community Service Program, Mr Paul Kintu noted that the Directorate is under-staffed; and therefore welcomed and encouraged the creation of new; and strengthening of existing partnerships with LASPs to assist in the implementation of the NCSP. He highlighted that LASPs can assist the NCSP through counselling, information sharing, offender economic empowerment and follow up of cases. He commended DGF for the initiative of bringing together LASPs and the NCSP to strengthen their collaboration in community service.
The Component Manager, Rights Justice and Peace at the DGF Sophie Racine urged the participants to work closely and build synergies with the NCSP, following their guidelines for volunteers and ensuring harmonization of messages. The DGF is wholeheartedly behind the NCSP, which promotes alternative to imprisonment for petty and first time offenders. This is a more constructive approach for their rehabilitation and reintegration into the community. Properly supported, this programme can also contribute to decongesting prison and reduce government expenditures on prisoners.
LASPs also shared their experiences, lessons and challenges in implementing community service. It was emphasized that it is very important for LASPs to work with the NCSP while implementing community service initiatives so that they complement each other’s efforts. Some key challenges highlighted during the meeting included attitudes of accused persons and judicial officials towards community service. Some judicial officials are reluctant to give community service because they do not view community service as a strong enough punishment. On the other hand, some accused persons perceive community service as degrading; and are reluctant to agree to it. This is compounded by the fact that the NCSP does not have a database of people who have received community service. It thereby becomes difficult to identify repeat offenders who keep on benefitting from community service but do not change their ways.
In this first-ever synergy meeting between the NCSP and LASPs, issues were identified; and a road map was developed to address issues in order to make the program work for poor and vulnerable persons. Participants noted that community service had the potential to decongest prisons and save government funding on prisons; there is need for partnerships with key stakeholders while implementing the NCSP; there is need for sensitization to increase awareness about community service. It was also noted that there is need to identify public places where offenders can do community service; support the rehabilitation of offenders on community service and put in place a mechanism of managing data on community service beneficiaries.
In their comments, LEAP partners noted that they found the meeting very informative and educative; and commended the NCSP staff for their commitment to promoting access to justice for all. LASPs agreed to work with the Directorate of Community Service to guide implementation of the NCSP; share information and reports on the program and conduct joint implementation of some activities like radio talk shows. LASPs were also urged to identify a Civil Society representative on the NCSP Steering Committee.