Over 600 inmates get legal help before returning to communities

Jun 29, 2016

Ha Noi June 29th, 2016 - Inmates who are released back into the community after long prison sentences face a wide variety of problems, many of which can be addressed with improved access to legal services.

This was highlighted by the Ho Chi Minh City University of Law Legal Consultancy Center and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) as they hosted a workshop at the Green One UN House in Ha Noi today to discuss the outcome of a pilot project to provide mobile legal aid in 5 prisons to inmates who are scheduled for release pursuant to the terms of their sentence.

“Difficulties with identity cards, clearing criminal records, registering household books, and family issues are common problems,” said Mr Scott Ciment, UNDP Policy Advisor for Rule of Law. “Some inmates have difficulties reading and writing. This program is designed to help prisoners with social re-integration by allowing law students, with support from professors and local lawyers, to assist them with basic legal information”.

Fifty law students at the HCMC University of Law first distributed a legal needs assessment questionnaire to inmates before they visited the prisons to make sure that they were providing useful law services. Later, the students, professors and lawyers analyzed the needs assessment to familiarize themselves with the sort of legal questions the inmates might raise during the counseling sessions. Next, the students talked to over 600 inmates at 5 prisons (Long Hoa, Cay Cay, Thanh Hoa (02 divisions), and Thu Duc (Z30D), taking notes and providing information through person to person counseling sessions. Upon release, the ex-inmates are able to visit the Legal Consultancy center for follow-up counseling.

The Ho Chi Minh City University of Law also drafted a handbook with easy to understand graphics and checklists for prisoners that focuses on the basic legal information they need to prepare for reintegration. The handbooks are distributed both inside the prisons and through the Consultancy Center during follow-up counseling. The University worked carefully with competent authorities to ensure that all prison rules were carefully observed.

This program has sparked an interest from other correctional facilities who want to build upon its success. One Deputy Prison Director, Senior Lieutenant Colonel Pham Thi Minh Hai, welcomed the prison legal aid project, noting at the opening workshop that her job is to create a safe environment for prisoners, but a secure one, and that the collaboration with the Ho Chi Minh City University of Law would be very helpful to accomplish both missions.

The Vice-Director of the Legal Consultancy Center, Duong Hoan, also shared how important it is to have good communication with prison officials so that the timing of the legal aid is effective.

At the same time, the law students who participate also benefit by having an opportunity to apply practical skills to the legal knowledge they are studying. “So far, I know nothing about what inside a prison is like so participating in this activity is a good chance for me to learn about these things and also a chance for me to help prisoners with knowledge on laws,” explained a participating second year law student.

More information:

Presentation by Mr Duong Hoan, Vice Director off the Legal Consultancy Center, Ho Chi Minh University of Law
Speech by Mr Vu Huy Hanh, representative of the Ministry of Public Security

Watch the video: https://youtu.be/ucChIm0tMWE

Contact information

For further information, please contact:
Nguyen Viet Lan, email: Nguyen.viet.lan@undp.org , phone 84-38500158