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Impact of Togo YMCA’s rehabilitation of young offenders project

Youth at a camp during the reintegration phase Youth at a camp during the reintegration phase

Judiciary procedures in Togo are very slow due to the lack of appropriate and sufficient number of magistrates and judges with adequate means to handle cases. Further, many families do not have financial means to hire lawyers for young people in conflict with the law. Thus many young offenders spend extended pre-trial detention time in prison. On 25 March 2008, only 20% of detainees in Lomé prison had been sentenced.

Ineffective organisation and lack of materials lead to ‘loss’ of folders during prosecution. In prison, detainees are plagued by idleness as there are neither recreational activities nor training programmes, except in the women’s section in Lomé prison. Moreover, the absence of reintegration programmes increases the risk of re-offending.


 This is the context in which Togo YMCA initiated the justice and rehabilitation of young offenders’ project in August 2005. Working in Lomé and Atakpamé prisons and Brigade pour Mineurs (a detention centre for children), this project was implemented in partnership with Y Care International which mobilised the necessary resources from YMWCA (KFUK-KFUM) Sweden.
 

Due to their low economic status and power, most families cannot hire lawyers for the youth in conflict with the law. Through the project, the YMCA provides legal support for these young people under 25 years of age. The main focus is to prepare them for reintegration after they have completed their sentences. The YMCA has been providing in-prison training opportunities in hair dressing and barbering, and silkscreen printing.

 
The project also provides literacy activities for those who did not have the opportunity to go to school or who dropped out early.
 

Health is a priority due to insufficient medicine and so the project supports the prisons’ health service by providing medicine. To prevent sexually transmitted diseases, YMCA-trained peer educators work with fellow inmates, educating them on sexually transmitted infections (STIs), HIV and hygiene. Various recreational games are also provided through the programme.
 
In order to facilitate reintegration after release, they are provided with psychological support. During detention, the YMCA plays an important role of mediation between the youth and their families. The aim is to involve members of the family in assisting the youth who suffered pre-prison circumstances as well as during prison, and to work together to enable the young people to prepare for their future.
 
After prison, a new life starts... For better reintegration, camp activities are regularly organised for young people in the reintegration phase. Their parents are also often gathered together for exchanges of experience, information and psychological support.
 
Follow-up visits assess the progress made by the beneficiaries and help to manage any conflict between the youth and their parents, as well as the youth and their trainers.

 
Impact of the project
 
In-prison activities helped to release at least 150 young people who spent many months in prison for petty crimes. Lost folders were miraculously found again. Professional training reduced idleness and quarrels in detention centres. Detainees acquired understanding on hygiene.
 
By the end of the project activities, the following results were achieved:
- Legal support: 240 reached (24 female, 216 male)
- Literacy: 316 reached (33 female, 283 male)
- Sensitisation on hygiene and counselling on STIs/HIV: 1036 reached (89 female, 947 male)
- Academic and professional training: 280 reached (73 female, 207 male)
- Total reached: 1872 (219 female, 1653 male)

Previously marginalised, young people who received legal support have started living honest lives. Disappointed parents have started trusting their children again. They even decided to form a support group and have reported that they are feeling more positive about the future of their children.
 
Bali is a young man aged 22, who never met his father and whose mother passed away. He was convicted of possessing stolen goods. During detention, he benefitted from the recreational activities conducted by YMCA, and the legal support he received resulted in his release. Before coming into conflict with the law, Bali had completed training in carpentry, and during the reintegration phase the YMCA gave him a starter kit with which he opened his own business. “If I did not meet YMCA in prison, I would take example on bad behaviours of criminal people in jail. Besides, I would be jobless upon release because during my detention all my work tools were stolen. I thank you for the toolkit you provided me,” he said.

When this project ended recently, a new initiative was developed: ‘Justice and rehabilitation of young people and children in conflict with the law or at risk’. The new project, which began this year, took into consideration the terms of reference and learnings of the completed project and new components were added. In the new project, it is implicitly noted that the effects of the ending one will be reinforced.
 
The leadership of the YMCA wants to tackle new challenges now, such as prevention of delinquency, which will necessarily involve socio-professional reintegration for young people and street children. To draw the attention to the importance of promoting and respecting the basic rights of young people, YMCA networks with five other NGOs. Together we are organising a wide-scale advocacy campaign for better justice for young people. This will involve ex-offenders who will be trained, and participate in the leading youth group in charge of the advocacy activities intended to sensitise authorities and communities. It will be a good opportunity to disseminate the Child Code which is ignored by the community at large.


Another innovation concerns the development of a Code of Conduct to be applied in prisons. There will also be the formation and training of in-prison legal clubs. Members of these clubs will use the peer education approach to sensitise their fellow inmates on their rights and obligations. They will be able to assist their inmates in writing their applications to judges and will help in selecting those whose cases are being delayed and who need legal support.

 

 

By:Eric Sallah, Communication Consultant, HCHR, Lomé, Togo

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