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Handing over in Malawi

Our programme in Malawi is now in its final phase. From modest beginnings, we have, together with our Malawian partners (Malawi Social Welfare, Children & Community Development, Malawi Police Service, Malawi Prison Service and the Department of Public Prosecutions) developed a programme with the potential to deliver real and sustainable outcomes for young Malawians who find themselves in the criminal Justice system or who, for various reasons, are at risk of offending. The programme is currently only running in Lilongwe, but has the potential, ultimately, to be the model for similar programmes elsewhere in Malawi.

The ultimate measure of success is the extent to which we are able to hand over a sustainable programme to local ownership. With this in mind, we bid successfully for 5 places on the Commonwealth Professional Fellowship Scheme funded by DfID. With the experience of working alongside Venture Trust staff in Malawi, cemented by the education provided by this scheme, these individuals from our Malawian partner agencies will form a highly effective cadre to take the programme forward. We are grateful to Scottish Government for agreeing to fund an extension to our programme to enable us to link our handover to the Fellowship programme, and plan to have completed the full programme handover to local partners by the end of the Commonwealth Professional Fellowship Scheme in September 2013.

So, what has been achieved over the last 3 years?

Our niche experience in the UK’s criminal justice sector has undoubtedly played a major role in transforming and embedding good practice in Malawi’s youth justice sector. We and our partners have achieved much since the launch of “Mwai Wosinthika” (A Chance for Change) and have exceeded all our targets. Initially, we set up and developed a multi-stakeholder, personal development and life-skills programme for young people in Kachere Juvenile Prison. Almost 300 of Malawi’s most vulnerable and excluded young people have taken part; building the confidence, motivation and life-skills they needed to improve their chances in life. Of those who have taken part:

• 73% showed a reduced risk of reoffending on release from prison.

• 60% have taken up some form of education, training, job or wage-earning activity.

• 65% have greater awareness of HIV/AIDS and other health issues.

The wider impacts are potentially even more important. Venture Trust’s staff have facilitated high-level buy-in to the rehabilitative approach from the Malawi Prison Service, Malawi Police Department, Department of Public Prosecutions and Malawi Social Welfare, resulting in genuine and effective partnership working on a day-to-day basis. In total, almost 50 staff from across more than 30 different agencies have become involved in the delivery, helping to create a legacy of skills and experience of partnership working in Malawi’s youth justice sector. The depth and strength of partner staff’s commitment and participation has been instrumental in getting us to the point where we feel confident that the handover of a sustainable programme to local control is achievable. The shift from punitive justice to a focus on rehabilitation is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that Kachere Juvenile Prison was re-named Kachere Reformatory Centre mid-way through the project period.

Latterly, at the request of local partners including the police, social services & courts, we have extended the project to those considered ‘at risk’ of offending in the community, to prevent young people ending up in Prison in the first place. This represented a major landmark: the delivery of Malawi’s first ever diversion programme under the criteria set out by the new Child Justice Act in the Malawi Constitution. We have spearheaded a partnership showing how to put progressive youth justice policies & principles into grassroots practice. The programme has now been running for three months based at the Victim Support Unit in Lilongwe Model Police Station, with over 20 participants engaging and being diverted from the Child Justice court, the police custody cells and off the streets.

It is well known that offending and imprisonment impose high costs on individuals, communities and society as a whole that Malawi can ill-afford – exacerbating poverty in all its forms. “Mwai Wosinthika” will, we hope, leave a lasting legacy that far exceeds original expectations, and make a significant contribution to Malawi’s increasingly positive future.

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