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DOJ Takes Contentious Pretrial Detention Dialogue Abroad  

Representation from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) embarked on a three-day trip to Africa to discuss hot-button criminal justice issues like pretrial detention with more than 20 governments on the continent.

africa 1297148 640smallAssistant Attorney General Kenneth Polite of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division joined Kenya Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji and the Honorable Chief Justice of the Kenya Supreme Court Martha Koome at the inaugural Africa Regional Colloquium on “Enhancing the Delivery of Justice by Addressing Pretrial Detention Challenges,” according to a DOJ announcement.

The gathering was hosted in Nairobi, Kenya and featured an open discussion surrounding ways to find a balance between national security, public safety and the fair, orderly and efficient administration of justice.

“Events like today’s provide us opportunities to learn from each other, consider new approaches, and reaffirm our shared commitment to advancing the rule of law,” Polite said. “These opportunities reinvigorate us, equip us with more tools, and build closer partnerships to help overcome shared challenges and meet our responsibilities to our citizens and the international community.”

From Twitter

Andrew J Franklin @AndrewJFrankli1 

"Replying to @NeilWalsh_UN @USEmbassyKenya and 12 others: There are 16,000 plus innocent Kenyans held in remand awaiting trial; many have been held in prison for periods of time longer than the prison terms that attach to the crimes for which they are to be tried. Kenya’s injustice system is broken and no longer fit for purpose!"

Per the announcement, the topics discussed included:

  • “Causes and consequences of excessive pretrial detention;
  • International norms;
  • Alternatives to pretrial detention;
  • Developing plea agreement regimes to reduce pretrial detention; and
  • The unique challenges presented by terrorism and violent extremism.”

Pretrial detention and its associated impacts have become a battleground issue for criminal justice reform advocates and hardline anti-crime pols. One such advocacy group, the Prison Policy Initiative, says there are more than 400,000 individuals in the U.S. detained prior to trial. According to their measurements, the number of individuals put in jail ahead of trial has quadrupled since the 1980s.

“Many are jailed pretrial simply because they can’t afford money bail, others because a probation, parole, or [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement] office has placed a ‘hold’ on their release,” according to the advocacy group.

From Twitter

Larry @_larry_cl 

"There’s an Assistant Attorney General, Criminal Division of the US Department of Justice, Kenneth Polite, lecturing Kenya on pre-trial detention. For context, the US is responsible for >20% of ALL detainees in the world."

Koome, who delivered the event’s keynote address, said the concept of innocence until one is proven guilty is a “sacrosanct” principle often “put to the test” when it comes to pretrial detention.

“As custodians of the law, we must strive to ensure that our justice systems are both efficient and effective. We must work towards reducing case backlogs, streamline court processes, and leverage on technology to expedite court proceedings. We must embrace the view that justice is not merely punitive but is also preventive and restorative. It is a mechanism for social change or social transformation,” she said.

Per the DOJ, representatives from the following nations participated in the gathering: Algeria, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Somalia, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda and Zambia.

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