In order to protect the identity and privacy of the inmates
of the prisons, employees of UP Zambia, and inters of UP Zambia, I will be
using pseudonyms to refer to people. None of the names used in this post are
true and correct.
This has been an unforgettable summer for me personally.
Although there were plenty of rough patches and frustrating nights, I can
honestly say, this was one of the best experiences of my life. I wanted to take
this time to talk about some of my experiences working with UP Zambia.
As I look back at my time in Zambia, there are several
moments that stand out. Although the interns and employees of UP Zambia were
great, what really comes to mind is all the experiences I had with the kids and
adults in the prisons. I was actually able to develop a pretty good connection
with a few different people. There was one particular inmate in Lusaka Central
(LC) that I thought I really bonded with (let’s call him Eminem). The reason I
call him Eminem is because he was actually a really great rapper. In fact while
I was in the prison, he shared with me a few songs that he recorded himself. I
can actually remember one occasion where he and I tried to make a song up on
the spot while waiting to interview a different inmate. Although UP Zambia was
not able to help Eminem (he had his own lawyer), he was still more than willing
to help members of UP Zambia. Eminem did everything from finding particular
inmates that we were looking for to helping with the language gap.
The language gap is something I did find a little difficult
to get around. If it wasn’t for inmates like Eminem, it would have been really
difficult to communicate with several of the inmates since I didn’t always have
a Zambian intern with me. While Eminem was my LC translator, Jordan was his
counterpart in Kamwala. Just like Eminem, Jordan had his own legal counsel so
UP Zambia could not help him. That being said, he was still more than willing
to help UP Zambia. Since I worked primarily at Kamwala, I interacted a lot more
with Jordan than I did with Eminem. Jordan and I actually used to work out
together in Kamwala. Although there wasn’t exactly state of the art gym
equipment in the prison, the prisons did make do with what they had. At first I
thought this was kind of odd but I soon realized that things like this
make-shift gym were necessary. I gave the prisoners something to do. During my
last day, Jordan and I actually ended up doing a sort of competition where we
went through a kind of training circuit.
“They might lock me up, but they can’t lock my mind up They can’t lock my mind up They can’t lock my mind up ‘cause I’m still gonna be spittin’ those Bars behind bars Bars behind bars”
While the UP Zambia team spends
weekdays in prison providing legal advice and case updates to the juveniles,
Saturdays in prison look quite different. Each Saturday we arrived at Kamwala
Remand Prison with games, pockets full of candy, and, most importantly, a giant
speaker and microphone. All morning, the juveniles would take turns rapping,
and we would dance alongside them to songs they loved.
It wasn’t unusual for me to ask the
juveniles or my friends at UP Zambia the names of songs as they played. Zambian
music is upbeat and expressive, and I’d quickly grown to love not only the
sound, but the way it brings people together. One Saturday, as a new song played
across the courtyard, I asked a group of juveniles who the artist was. One boy winked
and pointed at himself. I laughed and rolled my eyes. You see, I thought he was
But as I listened, I quickly
realized the voice rapping over the speaker was the same voice I knew belonged
to the juvenile in front of me. His lyrics spoke of hope and resilience, and a
chorus of his friends’ voices surrounded his words. It wasn’t just a catchy
beat; emotion and depth resounded throughout.
Many of the juveniles at Lusaka
Central and Kamwala Remand have been in prison for years without even beginning
to serve a sentence. For some, their case has been reviewed, but they still
await a judgment or confirmation. For others, their trial has been adjourned
repeatedly because a witness for the prosecution failed to appear in court –
again. At Kamwala, many of the juveniles
are brought to prison for minor theft charges.
Instead of being with their families and progressing in school, the boys
spend their days in overcrowded spaces without adequate clothing or hygiene. They
face sleepless nights and growling stomachs. Their youth is stolen from them as
prison becomes their reality.
For the juveniles, music is their
sacred outlet. It’s how they share their story and navigate their emotions.
During my days with them in prison, I heard raps recorded onto .mp3, listened
to freestyles sung into a microphone, and read pages upon pages of lyrics
written in worn-out notebooks.
Their raps tell of the struggles
they face each day, but they also speak of a steadfast reliance on God and hope
for a future of freedom. They write often of the “real hell” they live in, but
also at lengths about their dreams and plans for the future. While exhausted
and hungry, they sing “Amani Kumbuka” or, “God never forgets about me.” They
are resilient, creative, and brave – and their words reflect this.
They are also thankful. They are
thankful for the work that the incredible people at UP Zambia have done and
continue to do for them. UP Zambia provides not only valuable legal advice and
advocacy for juveniles in conflict with the law, but critical social and
emotional support. For too many people in the justice system, these boys are
just a name on a file, a number, a statistic. But to UP Zambia they are so much
more – they are people with a future worth fighting for. They are boys who
laugh, and dance, and have a depth beyond their years. They are boys who deserve
a shoulder to cry on when it feels like they’ll never have their day in court, who
deserve a friend to celebrate with when they learn they’ll finally be released.
It is in these relationships that the work of UP Zambia proves truly
A juvenile at Lusaka Central Correctional
Facility wrote the following lyrics about the Lusaka Central Legal Desk team
from UP Zambia. I think he puts into words the hope UP Zambia returns to these
juveniles, simply because of their decision that these boys matter, that they have
voices that deserve to be heard.
“This is my story at LCCF a place where you find people sentenced to life in prison and death A place where Jesus and Satan are found most A place living like a dream but seeing a real ghost Somewhere when just putting a smile on your face is a crime Instead of thinking about thinking about your offense, you’re busy wasting time Always found upset and seeking for revenge But sometimes I find myself laughing just because of you friends Okay, it’s not fake about the legal desk, you help me not to be at that risk You put a smile on my face, I know I’m in a weird place but you fill me with peace.”
UP Zambia primarily works with juveniles, but they also work with other vulnerable populations, such as prohibited immigrants. UP Zambia is the primary advocate for prohibited immigrants that have been detained by the Zambia Department of Immigration. Prohibited Immigrants (PI) are people who have been arrested for illegal entry, illegal stay, overstaying their visa, or leaving the camp without a gate pass (refugees only). Surprisingly, most of the PIs are legally in the country, and they often have their refugee papers, visa, and/or passport on them when they are arrested, yet they are arrested anyway. The prohibited immigrant team works with the Commission of Refugees to get the arrested refugees sent back to their refugee camp, and they work with Immigration to organize the court appearances and deportation for the remaining prohibited immigrants.
The PI team consists of four members: Eve, Veronica, Yoram,
and Fanny. Eve is the team leader. She primarily works in Lusaka Central Male;
Veronica primarily works Lusaka Central Female; Yoram primarily works in
Kamwala Remand, and Fanny does majority of the follow ups. During the month of June,
three interns joined the PI team: Ruth from Northrise University, and Taylor
and I from Baylor Law School.
In the morning, the PI team is at the prisons. The PI team
interviews new clients, follows up with clients, and socializes with the
clients to make sure that they feel they are not forgotten. The team rarely has
time to breathe while they are there. Especially when there is a large intake
of new PIs, which typically happens on Mondays. There are as many as 50 new PIs
at a time. The very first day that I went to Lusaka Central we had 48 new PIs.
The PI team member for that prison will interview and fill out the migrant form
for every new migrant. This can take from 8:30 to 4 and there can still be
migrants that need to be interviewed the following day.
The afternoons are spent either at the prisons finishing the
work from the morning or spent following up with the immigration office, the
commission of refugees, the International Organization for Migrants, or the
embassies. UP Zambia has built relationships with the multiple government
offices and aid organizations, and those relationships have greatly improved
the lives and outcomes of their clients.
When I first arrived at the immigration office, I was
shocked at how cooperative and friendly the immigration officers were. I was
expecting backlash and pushback, but we were greeted by name and with (almost)
open files. The officers seemed to actually care about what we had to say and
were as frustrated as we were about the status of so many PIs. There was only
one instance in which we did not experience such a relationship. Taylor, Ruth,
and I went to the immigration office without an UP Zambia staff member. He
greeted us, but once we got started with the meeting, he refused to continue
talking to us. We still do not know why there was such a change in our
interactions that day, but the situation was resolved by a simple letter the
This team does more than provide legal assistance; they also
provide friendship. Every time Eve or Veronica enter the female section, all of
the PI ladies come running towards them. They talk, tell jokes, share food, and
provide comfort. Frequently Yoram has 10 or more PIs surrounding him at
Kamwala. This team cares about these migrants as people and as clients. This is
why the team is so successful.
The last day that I went to
Lusaka Central, a Prohibited Immigrant who had translated for me frequently,
came up to me and told me that he and 10 other Congolese were being sent back
to the Democratic Republic of Congo. He was so happy and thanked me over and
over again. Knowing the work I did following up and just generally caring about
their cases helped them made the entire time I spend in Zambia worth it. The
cases were not practically difficult but the biggest issue was always following
up with cases and making sure that immigration knew they were imprisoned.
The big issue we ran into when
trying to follow up with cases was the Immigration officer deciding that he
didn’t want to deal with us anymore and wouldn’t give us anymore information
regarding our clients. We think a big reason for that was the fact that Eve, our
boss and the one he normally deals with, was out the whole week. Sky and I took
care of the interviews and follow-ups that week without her. A big problem that
UP Zambia runs into is officials who want to help at certain times but then
other times are unable to for various reasons.
A lot of the time Refugees would
get stuck in the prison system. If we did not get their name and information to
take to the Commission of Refugees or International Organization for Migration,
then the refugee would pointlessly stay in prison for lack of funds to
transport. A big issue was the Zambian government only deports people when they
have enough people from one country that it is economically feasible to take
all the prisoners back to their country.
On a quiet day at the office, I began rifling through the mound of donations, UP Zambia paperwork, activity supplies, and such that had accumulated in the corner of the office. While the purpose was organization and preparation of donations for the Gift of Warmth Collection Drive, I quickly became wrapped up in an unexpected box of artwork created by the incarcerated juveniles.
In this box were paper plates
painted with UP Zambia’s slogan “One Day Freedom.” There were paintings
thanking UP Zambia for their work, and paintings with prayers to God for
freedom and mercy. Letters were mounted on wood planks that chronicled a
juvenile’s day in prison and prayers for release, that at one point hung in the
UP Zambia office as a reminder of the juveniles they are serving. Gratitude for
the work UP Zambia does for these juveniles overwhelmed me, and I felt crushing
compassion for those boys who painted these beautiful prayers. They reminded me
so much of those I spent my days with in the prisons.
And then my heart dropped. There in
my hands was a painting dated about a year and half ago and signed with a name
I recognized all too well from my time at Lusaka Central Prison. The weight of
his time in prison sat on my shoulders in that moment as I considered all he
has suffered at the hands of the justice system following his crime. Yet every
day, when he greets me at the desk and I ask him how he is, he responds “I am
blessed.” Three years of incarceration that will mean little when it comes to
his sentencing. Three years of being 1 of 50 juveniles in a prison with a
population of 2,000. Three years of insufferable living conditions and limited
court appearances. Three years and no judgment yet. Yet he continues to pray
and thank God for what little he does have, because through it all he is
I wish you too could read the
prayers of these young men. I wish you could see past those prison doors, past
the barbed wire that lines the concrete walls isolating the juveniles from the
outside world. I wish you could meet them, shake their hand, see the humanity
within them. I wish you too had the privilege of knowing these juveniles, their
transgressions along with their hopes and dreams. Because I am blessed simply
by having these juveniles in my life.
I truly believe rehabilitation
requires a showing of love and kindness for these young men, and that box of
artwork I found is a unique display of the love UP Zambia has for these juveniles.
Leaving the juveniles at Lusaka Central Prison was extremely difficult and
heart-breaking, but the artwork created over the past two to three years is a
reminder that UP Zambia remains as a constant. Beyond legal services, UP Zambia
is a source of love and kindness for these juveniles to make sure that they
feel that when the world is against them, they have a team on their side. Thank
you UP Zambia staff for the limitless support you provide the juveniles in all
aspects of their lives. You are difference-makers throughout Zambia, and the
juveniles and myself are truly blessed by each and every one of you. One day
The juvenile justice system in Zambia relies heavily on court appearances of parents or guardians for an accused juvenile. A parent or guardian must be present in court for the juvenile’s case to proceed. If no one is there the court will adjourn to a later date and hope that someone will show up next week for the individual. This is when UP Zambia will step in and conduct parent tracing to find and tell the parents that they need to be in court for their child.
During my time in Zambia, I came across two individuals who were in court but had not had a parent present. After speaking with both of them, Doria (Northrise Intern) and myself, concluded that the children had no way to contact their parents and let them know that they were even arrested. This meant that the children either did not know their parents phone numbers or the parents did not have a phone. Also, the children did not know the street address of where they lived. All they could do was tell us specifics on how to find the parents and who in the compounds we could ask for help when looking for the parents. This usually meant getting the names of the most well-known people as well as descriptions and colors of buildings or landmarks to help us find the parents.
Along our search for the parents, Doria and I were accompanied by Mwingi, who works at UP Zambia. Mwingi is an absolute professional at parent tracing. Searching for the parents is a very daunting task because you are generally always in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people. What makes it harder is that the local citizens are very skeptical of why you are in their compound and looking for someone’s parents. It especially doesn’t help when there is a tall white man following who cannot speak the local language. However, I found it helpful to try to interact with the local children to show that there was no reason to be scared of me and that I was truly friendly and just trying to help by finding the parents. It was always nice to see the little kids follow us around and be curious of why we were there, so I would stop and crouch down to try to say hi to them and give them high fives. I would also do my best to try to say hi in the local language. This seemed to make everyone feel a little more comfortable and allowed us to actually get help from the local people to find the juveniles parents.
Once, we found the juvenile’s parents, which we were two for two on parent tracing, we informed them their child was in the remand prison in Lusaka and was waiting for a parent to show up to court to deal with their case. What made me so happy about finding both of these parents was the fact that both juveniles would eventually be released. One child was going to have his charges dropped and the other was going to be let out on bail. This was a big win for team Kamwala. Although, the juveniles weren’t physically released while I was there, knowing that their parents are now aware of what’s going on and when they need to be in court next is a great feeling. If UP Zambia was not doing parent tracing, the juveniles would theoretically be sitting in remand prison waiting for trial for over a year. Now, because of a few hours of our time, the children will be able to proceed in court and will be released back home with their parents or guardians.
Before beginning work in the Zambian justice system, we, the six Baylor Law and four Northrise University interns, sat down for an orientation session. It was helpful to learn about the how and why behind UP Zambia before diving right into the next few weeks of working with juveniles in custody. Sara Larios, one of the UP Zambia co-founders, explained that the program operates with four core values in mind: proximity, problem-solving, professionalism, and passion. These four words are more than just abstract ideals – they are values that the entire team actively practices every single day. I can say this with confidence because I’ve been a witness to “The Four Ps” in action each day that I’ve been with the UP Zambia team.
UP Zambia strives to be close to clients in every relevant
field – in prison, in the community, and in court. Each Saturday, members of
the UP Zambia team meet at Kamwala Remand Prison, where several of the juvenile
clients are held in custody as they await their sentences. On one Saturday in
particular, we lugged in backpacks filled with flour, sugar, oil, and other
baking supplies and commenced a morning of making fritters. As it turns out,
cooking enough fritters to feed 70 kids takes a while, so we were able to spend
several hours just hanging out with the juveniles in custody, who are really
just normal teenage boys. They performed raps for us and taught (or tried to
teach) us bits of Bemba and Nyanja, cracking up when we butchered simple words
and phrases. I liked being able to hang out with the kids as friends rather
than being restricted to seeing them only in a stuffy, serious courtroom, and I
could tell that the Saturday visits positively impact the relationships between
the UP Zambia team and their clients.
To say juvenile justice in Zambia is hard work would be an
understatement. There are frequent bumps in the road – missing witnesses, lost
files, overwhelming caseloads – that make it difficult to make progress at
times. Thankfully, everyone on the team is an expert problem-solver and adept
at finding alternate paths to resolve issues. Giving up on a case is never an
option they consider. On one morning in particular, I was in court observing
Mpaso, one of the staff attorneys. A case came up for trial that had been
continuously been reset; the juvenile had been sitting in custody since his
arrest in January. The matter was about to be reset again because the
complainant, whose presence was required, had not shown up to court. As the
magistrate announced that the case would be adjourned yet again, Mpaso stood
and said that she would go and find the complainant herself in order to see
that the juvenile would not have to return to custody again without any
progress being made on his case (through no fault of his own). Sure enough,
after a few hours of searching as other cases were heard, Mpaso was successful!
She found the complainant and brought him into court so that the case could
proceed. If it weren’t for Mpaso and her willingness to see the case through,
who knows how much longer the juvenile would have had to sit in prison, waiting
for his case to be heard.
During our first week in Lusaka, Baylor Law’s very own Dean
Toben spoke to the entire UP Zambia team about professionalism. Dean Toben
posed the question, “What does it mean to be a professional?” The general
consensus was that it means to be well-trained and an expert in the field.
Every Thursday at the UP Zambia office, the staff participates in a legal
training to hone their skills. Sarah Rempel, one of the staff attorneys, speaks
on topics like interviewing, fact investigation, and client-centered lawyering.
Then, everyone on the team gets a chance to practice the skills learned about
that day. I’ve enjoyed these in-depth sessions on important legal skills and
have been able to put them into practice, especially while interviewing clients
in prison. One day in particular, we discussed the four stages of a client
interview: the introduction, the open-ended “tell me everything” stage, the
probing questions, and the recap. As I was recapping the story of the boy I was
interviewing, he was able to point out important details that I had missed the
first time around. This interaction made me understand why it’s necessary to
learn and practice legal skills frequently. The importance UP Zambia places on
professionalism and staying sharp when it comes to necessary legal skills ultimately
benefits their clients in the long run.
I see passion for juvenile justice every single minute of
every day in every person on the UP Zambia team. The way they tirelessly fight
for their clients – spending hours digging through file rooms in the court to
find papers that have been forgotten, traveling to the outskirts of Lusaka to
track down parents of juveniles in custody – demonstrates that the work they
are doing is important and justice for these kids is something worth
fighting for. I think that it would be fairly easy to get caught up in the day
to day tasks like interviewing clients and submitting forms and forget about
the bigger picture, but everyone on the UP Zambia team constantly reminds each
other of why they do what they do. Their passion is contagious and makes me
excited to wake up each day and head to the prison, the court, or the office. I
am so thankful for this passionate group of people that pour their energy and
drive into obtaining “one day freedom” for their teenaged clients.
During my first week working for UP Zambia, I was handed a case file that entailed the account of two young men, Innocent and Evans, who had been falsely imprisoned for a crime they did not commit. At the time I was handed the case, Innocent and Evans had been sitting in prison for roughly two years and five months. Upon reading their case file, I was overwhelmed with emotions of confusion, frustration, and despair. I could not imagine the horrors these two juveniles and their families have been through for the past two years as they have fought to prove that these juveniles were innocent. After further reading into their case, I was once again horrified to find that the attorney assigned to their case refused to represent Innocent and Evans. The attorney’s justification was that his clients would not heed his advice, meaning Innocent and Evans would not plead guilty for a crime they did not commit. At the time I was handed their case, these juveniles were failed by the justice system in countless ways.
Additionally, these innocent juveniles were robbed of their childhood and placed in a prison for the worst of juvenile offenders. The prison they were placed in houses over 1,300 convicts, most of which are adult males. Juveniles who have been accused of aggravated robbery or murder are also housed in the same location as they are awaiting their trial and judgment. Of the 57 juveniles who are housed at this prison, Innocent and Evans were two. The entire size of the prison is comparable to the size of a football field. To make matters worse, the juveniles sent to this prison are not separated from the adult convicts. Juveniles who are not yet convicted of a crime are forced to live in close quarters with adult convicts who have been convicted of crimes such as defilement, murder, rape and aggravated robbery. As a result of this cohabitation, the juveniles face several different forms of abuse and mistreatment each day that they are imprisoned. Knowing the severity of abuse that takes place at the prison both juveniles were located at, I was overwhelmed to find out that this is where Evans and Innocent have spent the last two years of their lives.
After reading the case file, my supervisor and I made arrangements to visit and interview Evans. Upon arrival at the prison, we waited in the visitors bay for Evans to be brought to where we were. When Evans arrived, his face and body were covered in open wounds from a combination of scabies, fleas, and lice which infested the prison. However, Evans still smiled as we told him that we were there to help him with his case, and asked him questions about his arrest. While speaking with Evans, it was clear that he and Innocent had nothing to do with the crime they were being accused of and that they were truly innocent juveniles who fell victim to an overburdened justice system. After saying our goodbyes, my supervisor and I headed to the high court to check on the progress of the case and inquire about when the judgment hearing would be set. After spending hours asking several people about the case, we were informed that the court could not find Innocent and Evans case file. Because courts are routinely overburdened, my supervisor and I decided the best approach would be to spend the next few weeks working hand-in-hand with high court clerks to locate the file. Considering that Innocent and Evans have been before a judge several times and that the trial came to conclusion in 2016, my supervisor, a few court clerks and I were able to track the case back to the courtroom it would have been in during the trial in 2016. Thanks to the combined efforts of UP Zambia and an array of clerks, we were able to locate the file.
By the grace of God, the judgment hearing was set for the week before my group and I left Zambia. While attending the judgment hearing, my supervisor and I sat amongst the families of Innocent and Evans. After years of being failed by the justice system, it was no surprise that everyone in the courtroom was nervous about what the holding of the case would be. While the judge read through the facts of the case, read the testimonies given by witnesses during the trial, and began citing several cases that he would use to make his decision, I was frantically writing down every opinion and case cited to start forming a defense for appeal. As the hearing came to a closing, the judge finally uttered the words “I cannot conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Innocent and Evans are guilty of the crime they are accused of “, and then acquitted both young men. At the time that the judge stated that both young men would be acquitted, there was a sign of relief and several whispers of “thank you God” amongst the families of Innocent and Evans. Immediately after the young men were taken out of the courtroom and back to the holding cells to await release, we ran down to the holding cells to hug and celebrate with Innocent and Evans. As we gave each juvenile a hug, they thanked us profusely for our help and for providing hope for a better life. This was surely a moment in time that will forever be burned into my heart and mind as a time that justice prevailed.
After departing from Innocent and Evans, we were met by their families in the parking lot. Similarly, they hugged and thanked us for our help while stating how excited they are for their sons to finally come home. Overwhelmed with emotions, I was full of joy for these two young men whom I’ve learned lessons of hope, patience, and persistence from. As we drove away from the courthouse, I began to realize that it takes the joint efforts of an entire justice system to achieve justice and protect the innocent. Due to the joint efforts of UP Zambia, court clerks and the ruling of a fair and honest judge, two young men regained their freedom.
These two loving and compassionate young men served two years for a crime they did not commit. The justice system failed them time and time again, but I find hope in knowing that a plethora of individuals in the justice system are working hard to ensure that justice is served in Lusaka, Zambia. The case file of Innocent of Evans was temporarily misplaced, but due to the joint efforts of advocates, clerks, and a fair judge, their case was heard and not forgotten.
On June 15, 2018 justice was finally served, and Innocent and Evans are now free.
Under Chapter 87, The Penal Code Act of The Laws of Zambia, it is a crime to take photos or videos of government buildings. That means that myself and the other Baylor law interns cannot take photographs of any court, correctional or remand facility.
One of us has tried. When caught taking a photo of the exterior of the Subordinate Court, the intern received a stern talking to. He then made the intern delete the photo of the exterior of the court in front of him.
Photos connect us. Photos can make someone feel what someone else feels in a distant location. A photo of a school shooting in a town we’ve never heard of thousands of miles away from the TV on which we watch the news story unfold can make us weep. Such a photo can evoke enough emotion to make us do something about it, whether it be talking about it with others, attending a vigil, or calling our Congressman or woman to urge them to pass stricter gun laws. This is why a picture is worth 1,000 words, right?
So I want to show you a photo of the outdoor space the 40 juveniles share at Kamwala Remand. Upon looking at the photo you might think to yourself that it’s not bigger than the size of your living and kitchen areas combined.
I want to show you a photo of the holding cells behind the Subordinate Court. I would point to the puddles on the floor and say, “That’s urine. The toilets have been broken for who knows how long.”
I want to show you a photo of where the juveniles sleep at Lusaka Central Correctional Facility. I would tell you that because Lusaka Central is three times over its capacity and as you can see the “room” is small, the juveniles sleep sitting upright, back to back.
I want to show you a photo of Zebron on the day we gave him a new pair of bright red TOMS. The first and only thing you’d see is a smile from ear to ear. You’d soon realize that you too are smiling because his smile is that contagious.
I want to show you a photo of the coolest makeshift movie theater you ever did see. With donated mattresses for the juveniles blocking the openings in the walls of the “classroom” at Lusaka Central and popcorn in red and white striped popcorn containers, Black Panther played on the wall through a projector. The Zambian legal interns’ creativity made the first viewing of Black Panther, and likely the first movie for those boys unforgettable.
I want to show you a photo of the juveniles playing chess in a chess tournament we organized at Kabwe Correctional Facility upon some makeshift boards we painted for hours the night before. I would point to the boy in the green shirt and tell you he won the tournament, and that it was a huge feat considering all of the boys there play chess for an hour every night.
I want these photos to show you so that you’ll feel what we feel here: sadness and hope for these boys and girls. Moreover, I want these photos to create within you feelings strong enough to lead you to advocate for them alongside us. But for now, words will have to do.
I met two teenagers on remand. They were charged jointly along with two other adults for aggravated robbery. The four allegedly broke a window and stole $400 of alcohol. All four pled not guilty. The teenagers had recently found out the adults received sentences of 15 years, which is not the type of news you would want to hear after two years in an overcrowded prison. And by overcrowded, I mean they both sleep sitting upright because there is no room to lay down and both have contracted contagious skin infections.
Those accused of heinous crimes (e.g. aggravated robbery, murder and trafficking [including possession of >0.5 grams of marijuana]) may spend two years or more in jail on remand before they are found guilty or acquitted. In the best-case scenario, the accused will remain in custody over a month before entering a plea.
The accused can be held in custody and interrogated at the police station for up to two weeks, as heinous crimes are not bailable. Sometimes police delay arraignment by shuffling accused offenders to other police stations, violating the accused’s right to see a magistrate within a reasonable time. The most egregious example of this shuffle has resulted in two months of the accused not seeing a magistrate.
The court proceedings for heinous crimes occur in the following order:
The accused’s case is called, and the court asks for the juvenile’s parents. If the parents are not present, most magistrates adjourn the matter for—at most—two weeks. During this time, the court may issue a removal warrant, ordering the arresting officer, the juvenile and UP Zambia to trace the parents before the next court date.
If the juvenile’s family cannot be traced (e.g. he lives by himself), the court dispenses with the requirement of the guardian’s presence, and the probation officer from the social welfare office acts as a surrogate guardian.
Once the parents or guardians are present, the court will record their age, occupation, physical address, contact information and relation to the juvenile. With the parents or guardians present, the court confirms the juvenile’s age, occupation, and residential address. Furthermore, the court reads and explains to the juvenile their alleged offense.
Juveniles accused of heinous crimes do not plea at the subordinate court, because the subordinate court has no jurisdiction to try heinous crimes. The juvenile and their guardians merely appear for the charge to be read and explained. The court will keep explaining and simplifying the explanation of the charge to the juvenile until they understand the charge.
The Director of Public Prosecutions (or DPP) oversees the prosecution of all criminal matters and evaluates the available evidence to determine whether a trial is warranted. If the evidence warrants a trial, the DPP issues a certificate of committal to the High Court. This certificate alerts the High Court of the upcoming trial. In most cases, however, the subordinate court grants the DPP’s motions of continuances, and the case lingers in subordinate court for months.
Before a certificate of committal has been issued, the magistrate—sua sponte or by a motion of the accused—can conduct a preliminary inquiry. After conducting this inquiry, the magistrate gives their opinion of the evidence produced on the record and can discharge the case. Even if a juvenile is discharged pursuant to the inquiry, the DPP can later re-arrest and prosecute the juvenile following the DPP’s evaluation of the evidence. The DPP can terminate the inquiry before it is completed by:
Determining no probable cause exists and entering a nolle prosequi that discharges the accused.
Determining probable cause exists and issuing a certificate of committal to the High Court.
When a certificate of committal has been issued by the DPP the accused must wait for the National Prosecution Authority (NPA) to add the case to the High Court docket. The NPA determines the order in which cases are tried, and the NPA can several months to cause list a juvenile’s case to the High Court docket. The Judge in charge allocates the cause listed cases to other High Court judges.
With misdemeanors (i.e. non-heinous crimes) the cause-list wait time for subordinate court appellants is frequently lengthened by at least two months just for a file to be created, following a conviction at the subordinate court.
If the accused cannot afford an attorney, the state accords one to them through the Legal Aid Board. UP Zambia has a memorandum of understanding with the Legal Aid Board to assist with unrepresented juveniles in Lusaka. This MOU was borne out of necessity as the Legal Aid Board is severely backlogged, like some public defender’s offices in America.
Current Legal Aid Board legislation caps the number attorneys, which can only be increased by future legislation.
The PLEED program has successfully lobbied to introduce legislation that grants paralegals more powers to alleviate the Legal Aid Board.
High Court judges travel circuits, sitting in different districts throughout the year. Therefore, cases allocated to judges can only be heard when that judge’s criminal session opens in the designated district. The unavailability of a designated High Court judge creates a backlog of cases, as criminal matters can only be heard at specific intervals.
When a case has been cause-listed and a judge allocated, the judge’s clerk then provides court dates. At the first hearing in the High Court, the accused can formally plea. In the swiftest cases, the accused pleads within a month or two. In other cases, the accused waits over a year to finally plea.
Trial can result in numerous delays. In the past, High Court judges have simply forgotten about a case due to their burdensome caseload. UP Zambia, reminds the court of cases that have gone cold as the accused’s file may go to the bottom of the pile.
Once the trial concludes, the accused will wait for judgment. If found guilty, the court orders the juvenile to offer mitigating factors that will be considered for sentencing. Lastly, a juvenile’s sentence cannot be delivered without a social welfare report, which requires contact with the juvenile’s parents, guardian or in extraordinary circumstances, the report of the probation officer.
After spending years in remand, convicted juveniles are often sentenced to a reformatory,approved or “prove” schools. These sentences are not reduced for time already served on remand. The sentence begins when the juvenile arrives at the prove school, which can occur months after judgment. Sometimes, the prisons cannot afford the petrol to transport the juveniles. In some instances, the juvenile is convicted and transported to a prove school in 5 months. In other cases, the accused is on remand for years as the proceedings are delayed ad infinitum.
UP Zambia has successfully advocated for some convicted juveniles to receive an absolute discharge at sentencing, persuading the judge to consider the time they were on remand.
Probation orders are another favorable alternative. This conditional release requires the juvenile to regularly attend a counseling program, and this sentence is typically reserved for first-time, juvenile offenders.
The teenagers’ best-case scenario is absolute discharge, where the court recognizes their time-served as sufficient punishment. It’s not unprecedented, but it’s unlikely.
The teenagers’ most likely sentence is “reform” school, which would not recognize their time served in prison. The reform schools somehow negatively impact the juvenile’s demeanors worse than the overcrowded prisons. For example, one of the reform schools—Katamboro—implements a practice where more tenured juveniles are empowered to whip and pummel new arrivals into solemnity. Another reform school—Nakambala—has no fences and allows the community, notorious for drug abuse, to freely roam around the school grounds. At least you are serving your time.
The teenagers’ mood was not improved by our optimism, so I gave them my lunch, a couple of KIND bars. They walked away without saying much, but I hoped my group provided a brief respite to their despair. They were certain their fate would be fifteen more years, and they weren’t excited about spending a year in Katamboro—the juveniles have heard the stories of the disciplinary regime.
It will take time and people, like those in UP Zambia, to encourage the country to improve correctional intervention.