Tag Archives | prison

Wrapping Up the Masindi Project

The third and final day of the Masindi Project was busy.  We started at 9 a.m. on Wednesday with most of the team calling final witnesses in for interview.  I went out to the Remand Home with two students, Steve and Megan, for some follow up projects.


We called the two boys for follow first.  We asked our driver, whom we had just met, if he might be willing to translate for us (since none of us spoke Swahili, Arua, Acholi or any of the various local languages.  He happily agreed to help.

While the interviews began, I took photos and video around the Remand Home.  I haven’t made a documentary film in about two years, so I’m feeling eager for a new project.  I’d like to do something on the remand situation, but I haven’t put much thought into yet.  I also worked with Steve to take photos of the kids that we would print and give to them later.

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Day 2 at Jail for Kids in Africa

We are very busy here. The Remand Home project (jail for kids) in Uganda is moving along quickly with many cases in need of attention. We got on the road early to arrive at the Remand Home and work through several interviews.

The boy's remand building

On my team’s first interview, we called for the kid and about halfway through the interview we realized that another boy with a completely different case had come instead. The case was simple theft of an old wooden door by a boy who needed money to pay for school. The owner of the door saw him take it, retrieved it immediately, and had him caned. Then, on top of that, the owner had the boy arrested and he’s been waiting in jail for several months. The boy just wants to get back to school. You hear a case like this and you shake your head that it came to this.

Our next two cases were (aggravated defilement) rape of girls until 14 by older boys. In both cases, evidence was incredibly thin, but the boys both seemed believable that they had not committed the crime. In one instance, a feud had broken out between two sides of a family. To seek revenge for the boy of one side who had been arrested for stealing money, the other side accused him of defiling their younger daughter. It’s hard to say what really happened and I will be digging into the case file momentarily.

In the final case of defilement, the boy indicated that he might be a neighbor randomly accused. The girl had apparently not come home and her father beat her until she told him with whom she spent the night. She gave the neighbor boy’s name. We also interviewed the boy’s uncle (whom he lives with) who corroborated the story and said he was with him the entire day and they slept in the same room. The seemed so frustrated with the scenario and said, “I’ll just tell them I did it if it means I can go back to school!” Answers like this give me reason to believe he’s telling the truth.

These are just a sampling of the cases with which we’re dealing. Other cases range from death by poisoned insects to witch craft. We run the gamut here.

If you know Michael and Karen Mudgett from Malibu Presbyterian Church, I think they’re enjoying their time. Michael is definitely on top of things during the interviews. We’re not on the same team, but occasionally I hear him switch hats from lawyer to pastor and bark out something like, “Okay young man, now you tell me how you’re going to change your behavior around women.”

For those who know Carol Chase, she’s definitely in her element here. The fact patterns we get are better than law exam questions with all sorts of complex procedure and evidentiary problems. It’s criminal law professor’s dream and she’s loving try to solve these complex cases. “I want to come back here and do this again!” she blurted out after we finished today’s round of interviews.

Tomorrow is the final push—we need to get everything wrapped up and filed away. It will be a busy morning.


Back in Uganda: The Masindi Project 2 is Beginning

I am back in Uganda this week for another installment of the Masindi Project—a juvenile justice initiative Pepperdine conducted in 2010.  On this trip, I’m joined by Pepperdine Law professor Carol Chase and Michael and Karen Mudgett from Malibu Presbyterian Church.  Michael is a lawyer turned pastor.

The long road back to Kampala

So far, things have been very busy.  We arrived in Uganda late Friday night and slept 3 hours at a hotel before departing to head north.  When I bring groups to Uganda, I like to start the trip with a quick safari over the weekend to get us out, active, and over jet lag.

On top of that, Paraa Safari Lodge is one of my favorite places in the world.  I looks like the kind of lodge that Disney would design, except that it is a real safari lodge!  I also love it’s celebration of African explorers—the walls are covered in paints of Livingstone, Speke, and the great Nile explorers.

The night we arrived at the lodge, we did the Nile cruise.  Again, much like Disney’s jungle boat ride, except that it’s all real.  Along the river banks you see cape buffalo, warthogs, elephants, hippos, and crocodiles.  It’s calm and relaxing.

Early, early the next morning, we arose for the game drive safari—you head out before sunrise.  I had one mission this time: see lions.  They had eluded me the past two visits.  We drove out quickly, blowing past the elephants and giraffes to try to find the lions early.  Thankfully, we were not disappointed.   A pride was spotted and we tracked them for a while.  We saw 4 or 5 lions up close—within 10 feet at one point.

After the safari, it was back to Masindi—a long 2.5 hour bumpy ride on dirt roads.  We pulled into town about 3 p.m. and checked into the Masindi Hotel, another one of my favorite hotels in Uganda.  It claims to be Uganda’s oldest hotel (built in 1923) and lays claim to being frequented by Ernest Hemingway during his trips to Africa.  I think they even claim he recuperated here after he crashed in an airplane.

We were also joined by all of the Pepperdine Law students and Professor Gash on Sunday night at the Masindi Hotel.  We briefed the team on what to expect the next few days as start the Masindi Project.  By evening, the local legal aid lawyer, Susan, and probation officer, William, arrived at our hotel and brought a few of the available case files.

The boys' remand building

My team will have about 7 or 8 cases.  So far, we have two files.  Both involve teenage boys accused of rape and imprisoned at this jail.  One of the victims was 3 years old, the other was 12.  The file also always thin, so our job is to figure out what happened in build the case for justice to be done.

For the most part, the kids here have been held for 1-2 years, far over the 6 month maximum that you can hold a child under Ugandan law.  A few have even crossed the 2 year mark, which means they arrived soon after I left on the first Masindi Project trip.

We head out to the jail in just a few short hours.  I will keep you posted on how this week transpires.


“Remand”: A Short Film on Jail for Kids in Africa (Finished and in HD)

After some small changes and post-production improvements, "Remand" is now a finished film!  The documentary is short, only 6 minutes.

At Pepperdine, we've been assisting the juvenile justice system in Uganda by going into children's prisions to prepare their cases for trial.  Unfortunatly, kids easily slip through the cracks and some wait as long as 2 years without receiving a trial for a crime they are merely (and often wrongly) accused.

The film is in HD, so please watch FULL SCREEN by clicking the little "X" betwen "HD" and "Vimeo" on the menu at the bottom of the clip window.

Remand: Jail for Kids (HD) from Jay Milbrandt on Vimeo.

On a technical note, I shot this film on a Canon 7D with L-Series lenses.


May It Please the Court?

Yesterday, I wrote about the juvenile justice project we’re conducting at the remand home.  This effort, like so much of the work well-meaning organizations do, is only a bandage.  In many ways, the Uganda legal system feels, metaphorically, like the levees I see on CNN holding back the Mississippi floodwaters.  The Ugandan legal system is flooded with work.  It’s backlogged.


With the juvenile justice project, we’re just put our pail in the floodwaters and throwing it to the side.  It barely makes a dent and the waters continue to rise.  The answer is to build a new structure to better manage the water before the levee breaks.

This is where Pepperdine can come in to help.  We are good at thinking through new STRUCTURES.  We’ve been hard at work on implementing plea bargaining, but it’s going to take a lot of thought.  Much has to be done before a new, efficient structure can be fully integrated.  Pepperdine needs to collaborate with the judiciary on projects such as writing sentencing guidelines that will direct the plea bargaining process.


On the juvenile front, we’ve been asked to work with the Uganda Judiciary to help them revamp the juvenile justice system.  It needs to be overhauled and Pepperdine students have the capacity that the judiciary doesn’t due to its load and limited manpower. 

Together, we can build a new system that effectively manages the flood.  Hopefully we can prevent the backlog, especially for kids, and see that justice is done in a way that we no longer have to return to help with children’s cases.

And, to answer the question I posed in the title of this blog entry, YES, it does please the court.

The continuation of our work was once again confirmed by today’s important meetings with the Chief Justice, Deputy Chief Justice, and Principle Judge.  All are pleased with the collaboration between Pepperdine and Uganda have asked for more.  We are in a position to truly achieve the structural change that matters.


How did we get here—to a place that many justice-seeking organizations envy?  Relationships.  We became friends.  Our partnership with Uganda, in my mind, is characterized by friendship.  We serve them through the assistance we can provide and they serve us in many, chiefly by giving our students the incredible experience of working in Uganda.

To achieve meaningful and lasting change, we must first start as friends.


Justice for Kids – Today’s Work in the Prison


Today we spent the entire day at the Naguru Remand Home working on the cases of children arrested and charged with capital offences.  There are 158 children at the Remand Home (jail for kids) and most have been charged with petty offenses.  We took 14 of the cases and only those charge with capital crimes, meaning they could receive the death penalty.  It should be understood that many crimes constitute capital crimes, but Uganda has not administered the death penalty in over 20 years and doesn’t plan to do so.


Our team constituted the Pepperdine Law students, faculty, and alumni (about 11 of us), students and staff from the law school at Uganda Christian University, and lawyers from the Uganda Christian Lawyers Fraternity.  We divided into 3 subgroups to split up the cases.  Interviews can take up to 2 hours, so we had a lot of work to do.

We finished one interview the night before and had to get through 4 today.  The night before we had an alleged murder.  The young man charged with the murder was a motorcycle driver who claims the police covered up the murder committed by one of their own and accused the young man when he dropped his passenger off at the scene.  Based on my experience (with is admittedly limited), both stories are plausible.  Motorcycles drivers are notorious for committing “mob justice” on alleged criminals and there have been instances of cover-ups by individual police officers.  The answer likely rests in the police records for the case, which will demonstrate the injuries and indicate which story is correct.  Unfortunately, we are struggling to obtain the police reports.


Other interesting cases included several aggravated defilement (rape) cases.  In many of these cases, the accused claims that the victim consented while the indictment says it was forcible.  This comes down to a he-said-she-said situation and we have to try to ferret out the facts.  One common scenario is that the accused thinks the victim is of-age and later finds out she isn’t of age or there’s a discrepancy in the facts.  It’s very difficult to determine someone’s age with accuracy.  In Uganda, they determine age by measuring a person’s teeth—I’m not sure how that works.

Our briefs are coming down to the struggle that we have not been able to access police reports yet.  In Uganda, the prosecutor doesn’t share these reports with the defense until the trial, which is very challenging.  Prosecution becomes a game a surprise where you blindside the other with evidence at trial.  We’re trying to change some of those habits.


Tonight, we’re all crammed into a room at the hotel working hard on the briefs.  We are calling witnesses and working through the cases.  Tomorrow morning we might return to the remand home with follow up questions.  Until then, it might be another late night in the “war room.”


Jail for Kids in Africa: A Photo Essay

This afternoon we started our juvenile justice project at the Naguru Remand Home (jail for kids) in Uganda.  This is a repeat of the juvenile justice project I did in Masindi a year ago, but with new cases and a different prison.  We will be working on these cases over the next three days.  Today, I thought I would start with a short photo essay as I had the opportunity to shoot this afternoon.



Entrance to the Naguru Remand Home in Kampala.  Our team waits inside.



I’m often asked what “remand home” means.  This photo captures it. 



If you live at the remand home, you’ve got to work.  There’s a hierarchy among the kids and you’re voted to perform certain jobs, such as fetching water.



The “dormitry,” as spelled on their wall.  There are two nearly identical wings for the boys.



Even though you’re surrounded by 150 kids, remand can be a lonely experience.



Jail for kids is still jail no matter what title you give it.



Collaboration at work: Pepperdine students, faculty, and alumni; students from Uganda Christian University; and lawyers Uganda Christian Lawyers Fellowship.  "The Team" interviews children from the jail.


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