Overcrowding in prisons is a prevailing problem across many nations in Africa, with the practice of holding prisoners on remand compounding the issue. As a result, in some countries a good majority of the prison population is made up of those awaiting trial. Reports clearly show that prison conditions in Cameroon are inhumane and fundamentally breach human rights. Overcrowding is such that if one prisoner turns over at night, all prisoners must turn over.
The poor of Cameroon face physical, financial and educational barriers to legal aid. Most live in remote rural areas, live on an income of $1 per day, and do not speak English or at best speak broken English locally known as pidgin. With no representation poor Cameroonians are often held in custody for months, or years, until a trial court acquits or sentences him/her. Dockets are regularly misplaced with prisoners becoming lost in the system, unsure of what they are in fact charged with or how long they will be there. It is obvious that most pre-trial detainees pose very little or no threat to society and should not be in detention. The consequences of the breadwinner of a household, or the primary carer of a family, being held on remand indefinitely pending trial can be dramatic in a country such as Cameroon. In Cameroon, the socio-economic consequences are profound.
Contributory factors within the justice system include poor record keeping, incorrect data, excessive case delay, small number of magistrate overburden with many cases to handle, judicial decisions based on uninformed case management and failure on the part of criminal justice institutions and libraries to obtain up to date legislation. This project aims at:
- INVESTIGATE THE SITUATION – Search, examine, study the situation of prisons in order to build individual files for each detainee, select the most suitable candidates who cases shall be brought in front of a judge.
- LEGAL ASSISTANCE – Enter the judicial system, meet detainees and authorities, give legal assistance to needy and unjustly detained prisoners
- FURTHER OPPORTUNITIES – For liberated prisoners, find new opportunities for them to be reinserted in our society
The project targets: pre-trial detainees in all prisons in the South West Region (Buea central prison, Kumba principal prison, Mamfe prison) police and gendarme cells.
Activities related to this project include:
- Preliminary interview with pretrial detainees in detention centers
- Building individual dossiers for each interviewed detainee.
- Consult with legal counsel on the most suitable cases to be filed in court
- File selected cases at the registry in court.
- Move the court and defend the cases of each selected detainee with the help of a legal counsel.
- Build the capacity of legal practitioners, forces of law and order and penitentiary administration officers.
- Organize seminars, workshops, conferences to bring to lay bare flaws on access to justice in Cameroon.
- Advocacy for systemic change for those entering the criminal justice system.