Isaac Ndegwa goes through legal briefs at the Justice Defenders’ offices in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi.
The 35-year-old is researching cases to help prisoners with their appeals.
Just two months ago, Ndegwa too was behind bars, serving a 14-year sentence for a robbery and violent crime.
But during his time in prison, he joined a Justice Defenders’ legal training program and earned a law degree that helped reduce his sentence.
“We were able to challenge that law, through the knowledge that we gained, and my sentence was subjected to the same, to the remission, so I didn’t serve the whole fourteen years, I served now nine years and eight months,” Ndegwa said.
Ndegwa is one of 15,000 inmates who have had their sentences reduced or were released from prison through the efforts of Justice Defenders.
The aid group, which also trains wardens, seeks to make justice accessible to vulnerable members of society.
Miriam Wachira is Justice Defenders’ country director for Kenya.
“Seeing people in prison, behind bars, being able to study a law degree and finishing it, that has been one of our biggest success stories,” Wachira said.
Justice Defenders seeks to bridge a gap by empowering those who are unable to access justice through the legal process.
Kenyan high court lawyer John Lewis Onkendi said many people can’t begin a legal process because of lack of money.
“A lot of Kenyans have a problem in accessing justice because justice in Kenya can be expensive," Onkendi said. "By that I mean affording an advocate for an average Kenyan is not an easy task and so sometimes you find that a lot of them do not have quality and credible legal representation.”
Justice Defenders has served more than 33,000 people since its beginning in 2007.
Its legal education training and practice serves prisons in Kenya, Uganda, and the Gambia.
Thirty-nine inmates have graduated from the group’s law program, sponsored by the University of London, and six are practicing law.
Forty-one-year-old Brenda Ambani is accredited with the University of London to teach law for the group. She said the demand for the group’s services is high.
“One of our greatest impacts is having people who have studied this degree and they use that knowledge to argue out their cases in court,” Ambani said.
Justice Defenders is run solely through donations.
The group seeks to have those who have gone through its programs give back, like Ndegwa, by helping those who are locked up get access to justice.