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Community Service in Uganda

On November 6th 2001, the Deputy Chief Justice of Uganda announced the official implementation of Community Service orders in Uganda. The announcement marked the culmination of several years of development and preparation. Originally intended to lower prison populations and provide more humane treatment for offenders, the new policies provide space for participation by victims and the community, while creating room for the growing use of restorative process.
Development

Growing out of the Kampala Declaration, community service programmes were intended to address issues of rehabilitation and prison over-crowding. The main  goals of the programme are the

  • realization of humane treatment and rehabilitation of offenders 
  • improved and Increased use of non-custodial sentences and  involvement of the public in the administration of justice

Despite this concentration on the offender and the administration of justice, several broader benefits for the community service programme have been identified. These include

  • Rehabilitation of offenders through work in the community
  • Reconciliation between victims and offenders
  • Increased community participation

Community service, then, is an example of how multiple objectives can emerge, blending restorative outcomes, offender rehabilitation and improvements in the administration of justice. But this can create tensions as well, if the restorative goal of reconciliation, for example, is pitted against  rehabilitation or improvement in the justice system. Multiplicity of goals can distort the restorative character of community service if the restorative goals are not sufficiently observed. 

In Uganda, the development and implementation of community service included measures to balance these multiple objectives. Among other activities, the Interim National Committee on Community Service sponsored a campaign to educate the community about community service. This sensitization effort sought to change the traditional view that harsh punishments are necessary to effectively fight crime. The campaign used different media and community forums to explain the need for and benefits of community service orders.

Ordering Community Service

Uganda's Community Service Guidelines address three levels of the justice system, while recognizing the rights of victims, offenders, and the community. This is done through inclusion and attempts to foster reconciliation prior to a court appearance.

Several stages in the process require input from the victim and community members. Among the first steps in handling the case, both the police and probation officers are to determine:

  • the victim’s attitude when the offender admits guilt
  • the victim's attitude to an offer of compensation, reconciliation, or restitution by the offender
  • the existence of a prior relationship between the two that may be handled in the family
  • the existence of previous incidents between the victim and the offender.

These factors are important in deciding to order community service and in developing potential work assignments.  Before sentencing, the magistrate explains the community service programme and the alternative of imprisonment to the offender. The offender is then given the choice between the two.

Beyond inclusion of the victim and offender, the community service order  also aids the community.  Possible work assignments include public works projects and providing services that ease the financial burden of communities. In the literature surrounding community service development, the most desirable outcome of an assignment is 

  • the community benefits from work done  

  • the offender learns the impact of his actions on others  

  • the community and victim accepts the offender as a productive member of society

Including Restorative Processes 

This inclusion of stakeholders in the system opens the door for the promotion of restorative processes, namely victim-offender mediation. Prison Fellowship Uganda and other groups have moved in this direction.

In 1999, Grace Kiconco of PF Uganda and the newly formed Restorative Justice Initiative, invited Marian Liebmann, a mediator and restorative justice advocate from the UK, to provide mediation training for different organizations. Their goal is to use mediation with the new community service law and to divert minor offenses from the justice system. 

As a member of the national secretariat, Prison Fellowship Uganda has promoted restorative justice in several ways, including    

  • educating the community, churches, and other NGO’s about victim-offender mediation 

  • emphasizing the communities potential to use the new legislation to bring the stakeholders involved in a crime through the mediation process  

  • providing  restorative justice training to social workers in the area of juvenile justice     

  • developing a mediation manual to be used by the Local Councils in dealing with juvenile offenders.

Currently, PF Uganda and the Restorative Justice Initiative hope to have Liebmann return for more mediation training in 2002. 

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Resources used for this article.   

Bright, Christopher. 1997. “Community Service.” Restorative Justice Online.

Deputy Chief Justice of Uganda. 2001. “National Community Service Committee.” Speech given at the launching of Community Service Orders in Uganda.   

Kiconco, Grace. 2002. Personal Communication.

Liebmann, Marian.  2002. Personal Communication.  

Liebmann, Marian. 2001. “Restorative Justice in Uganda and Russia.” Paper presented at the Restorative and Community Justice: Inspiring the Future conference. Winchester. March 28-31, 2001.  

Magezi, Anna. 2001. “Implementation of the Community Service Act, 2000, Challenges and Prospects.” Paper presented at the “Justice in Uganda: Challenges and Prospects.” Conference at the Imperial Botanical Beach Hotel, Entebbe, October 21-24, 2001. 

Minister of Internal Affairs. 2001. Statutory Instrument. The Community Service Regulations 2001.  

National Community Service Committee. 2001. “The Community Service Programme Update.  

Sita, N. Masamba and G. W. Edanyu. 1999. “Awareness and Attitudes of the Public Towards Community Service.” 

 

By Lynette Parker

April 2002

 

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