A pilot program backed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is providing mobile legal aid to inmates in five Vietnamese prisons to help improve their social re-integration once they are released.
The outcome of the project was announced and discussed at a workshop in Hanoi on Wednesday, hosted by the UNDP and its partner, the Ho Chi Minh City University of Law’s Legal Consultancy Center.
In Vietnam, inmates who are released back into the community after long prison sentences usually face a wide variety of problems, many of which the UNDP believes can be addressed with improved access to legal services.
“Difficulties with identity cards, clearing criminal records, registering household books, and family issues are common problems,” said Scott Ciment, UNDP policy advisor for rule of law, adding that some inmates even have difficulties reading and writing.
Ciment said the program is designed to help prisoners with social re-integration by allowing law students, with support from professors and local lawyers, to provide basic legal information.
How it works
Fifty law students at the Ho Chi Minh City 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, UNDP said in a press release.
The students, professors and lawyers later analyzed the needs assessment to familiarize themselves with the sort of legal questions the inmates might raise during their counseling sessions.
The next step was for the students to speak with over 600 inmates across five prisons, taking notes and providing information in one-on-one counseling sessions, according to UNDP.
Upon release, the ex-inmates were 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 focus on the basic legal information they need to prepare for reintegration.
The handbooks were distributed both inside the prisons and through the Legal Consultancy Center during follow-up counseling. The university worked carefully with competent authorities to ensure that all prison rules were carefully observed.
The UNDP was happy to announce that the program has sparked interest from other correctional facilities who want to build upon its success.
Senior Lieutenant Colonel Pham Thi Minh Hai, deputy director of a participating prison, welcomed the prison legal aid project.
Hai noted at the workshop that her job is to create a safe and secure environment for prisoners, and that the collaboration with the Ho Chi Minh City University of Law would be very helpful in accomplishing 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 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 the inside of a prison so participating in this activity is a good chance for me to learn gain experience and help prisoners improve their knowledge regarding the laws,” a participating second year law student explained.
Operating in 177 countries and territories, UNDP offers global perspectives and local insight to help empower lives and build resilient nations.
UNDP partners with people at all levels of society to help build nations that can withstand crisis while and driving and sustaining growth that improves everyone’s quality of life.