Lecturer 'gains beyond measure' from three weeks teaching in African prisons

1 March 2017

Carrie de Silva with some of her students in Kenya
Carrie de Silva with some of her students in Kenya

"delivering to a group who had not been out of prison for, in some up to 20 years, some of whom are or were on death row, and who have no access to the internet and a relatively limited library I was forced to really think through both my delivery and the work I was asking of the students."


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Carrie de Silva, Principal Lecturer in Law and Taxation, recently returned to Harper Adams University after spending three weeks teaching in African prisons. Here she explains how her trip came about and how it is impacting on her teaching back in the UK

In the early summer of 2016 I received an email, out of the blue, from the Association of Law Teachers asking for expressions of interest in going out to Africa with the African Prisons Project. 

The organisation started in 2004 with a mission to “bring dignity and hope to men, women and children living and working in prisons across Africa”.  This work embraces health professionals, in-prison law clinics and a leadership programme, but the element I became involved in was the delivery of the University of London Law degree programme.

This programme is delivered through the African Prisons Project, in prisons in Uganda and Kenya, supported by University of London printed materials, local tutors and small cohort of British academics travelling out for short periods of concentrated delivery and revision, working alongside the local tutors.

The law programme is also supported by the Department of International Development through their ROLE (Rule of Law Expertise) project which aims to introduce or enhance the operation of the rule of law, with the input of UK academics and judiciary, across 27 developing countries.

I can only hope that I added something to law degree programme for the students I encountered at three high security prisons in Kenya:  Kamiti, Naivasha (both men’s prisons) and Lang’ata (women) in three weeks of delivering elements of their Property and Tort law syllabus. 

But I have no doubt that I got more in return. 

As a lecturer, in delivering to a group who had not been out of prison for, in some up to 20 years, some of whom are or were on death row, and who have no access to the internet and a relatively limited library I was forced to really think through both my delivery and the work I was asking of the students.

Elements of this are already feeding back into my ‘day job’ at Harper Adams University teaching law to prospective chartered surveyors.  One student, Francis, neatly summed up the reason for his interest in his studies in a way which I will share with all my students in future: He said: “I have come to realise that law is everything regarding our existence on this planet. Listening to the news. The environment. Work. Property. Prison. Everything.” 

Personally, I gained beyond measure.Long term prisoners told me how they want to use their education to help fellow inmates, raising appeals documentation and working in the law clinics to advise and support others.

Several of my students were also teaching classes for prisoners who needed basic literacy and numeracy, primary or secondary school education.  All plan to use their Law degree when released, hoping to go on to qualify as para-legals or lawyers.

I will finish with the students’ own words:  Philip related a humble background, with study at degree level being ‘beyond his wildest dreams’.  He expressed great thanks for the opportunity to study. 

And for William: “when I read, and study the law, I feel free. In my mind I am not in prison”.

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