It is not news that access to justice is a lengthy and expensive process, making it difficult for indigent people to access adequate legal representation.
Because of this Nigerian lawyer, Funke Adeoye, set up a non-governmental organisation, Hope Behind Bars Africa, to provide free access to legal services for prison inmates in Nigeria. The organisation also arranges rehabilitation.
Hope Behind Bars was conceived after Adeoye wrote her thesis on prison reforms and intervention in Nigeria. The idea solidified after she volunteered with an NGO and visited prisons.
“I was horrified by what I saw. Many prisoners are very poor and don’t have access to justice. When I spoke to other lawyers,they were interested in doing something but needed a platform. That was why I decided to get Hope Behind Bars Africa off the ground.”
Hope Behind Bars began work long before it was officially registered in 2019, with its headquarters at Abuja, Nigeria. The organisation also works with volunteers at Umuahia in Abia State, Niger State and Nasarawa State. Volunteer paralegals and lawyers wanting to work with inmates can do so through Hope Behind Bars.
The modus operandi is to first write to the prison authorities, informing them of the organisation’s interest in working with a category of prisoner—indigent inmates.
“When we receive authorisation, our volunteers visit the prison and conduct an initial interview to determine the profiles of the inmates, then we prepare their reports. From there our lawyers choose who to work with and proceed.”
There are many barriers for indigent people seeking legal help, says Adeoye.
“They lack access to information. Their incarceration means they are cut off from the outside world and many can’t afford lawyers.
However, she makes it clear that the goal is not to secure the release of criminals into society but to provide access to justice for the very poor.
“Nowadays, most of the people in prison, awaiting trial, are the children of poor people. The rich are hardly there because they can afford the best legal representation. We want to change that. We want to be a harbour of hope for the hopeless.”
“Recently we worked with and helped secure the release of a young man who was detained for allegedly stealing a laptop,” says Osarieme Omoruyi, the organisation’s Director of Communications in Umuahia. “He had been in prison for more than four years. He only went to court the day he was arraigned.”
Hope Behind Bars wishes to have more lawyers on the ground to aid its work.
To find out about volunteering visit:www.hopebehindbarsafrica.org