Life Foundation first started as Start initiative in 2013 in Abo Hammad city, Sharqia Governorate for the rehabilitation and social reintegration of former prisoners. Founded by a former female prisoner and a group of lawyers and volunteers, the organizations delivers programmes for the rehabilitation of post-release prisoners, with the aim of reducing re-offending and rebuilding lives. Life foundation engages in efforts to reduce stigma and discrimination, and to strengthen access to justice with the promotion of women’s empowerment. The Foundation is the only organization providing these services in Ismailia and Port Said.
Following the NGO law 84/2002 and efforts by the Ministry of Social Solidarity to review NGOs by requesting that they abide by the law’s set regulations, Life Foundation for Development and Social Reintegration was established in May 2015.
- Main donors included the following:
- Global Fund for Women (2013-2015): Supported access to legal aid specifically in relation to 200 discharge cases. Psychosocial rehabilitation was provided to 300 former prisoners of which 230 were successfully reintegrated to society without re-offending.
- Euro-Mediterranean Foundation of Support to Human Rights Defenders (April 2014- April 2015): Supported the Research Unit and the establishment of a shelter for former female prisoners in addition to providing training, medical assistance and counselling, and by engaging in advocacy at the governmental and community levels. During that period 24 women sought lodging and support. After which 20 women were successfully reintegrated to their families and two women were supported in finding a significant partner and starting a family, one woman was supported in finding work outside Egypt and another was provided continued support through the rental of an apartment.
- Amnesty International (January 2013-Dec 2014): Supported 24 former female prisoners including vocational training, literacy programmes, psychosocial support services and support of 19 women in establishing projects successfully.
The Initiative sought to establish partnerships with the Ministries of Interior, Health and Social Solidarity. Existing partnerships have been established with the following organizations:
- Affiliated Network for Social Accountability in the Arab World
- The MENA Regional Forum on monitoring of places of detention and prevention of torture by Dignity, the Danish Institute against Torture
- Anna Lindh Network in Egypt
- The International Network for Group Therapy and Dynamics
- The Network of New Tactics in Human Rights by the Center for Victims of Torture
- Kol ElNas NGO for Women and Child Development in Asiut
- Asharq Al–Awsat Initiative for Female Juveniles
- Memorandum of Understanding with the National Council for Women in Sharqia and Ismalia
- Mission and Vision
- Access to justice and legal aid
- Shelter for former female prisoners
- Psyhcosocial programme
- To protect society through the rehabilitation and social reintegration of prisoners to prevent their re-offending
- To rebuild the lives of former prisoners and that of their families
To promote a society that gives second chances for former prisoners to rebuild their lives
Prison systems exist for the social rehabilitation of offenders, with the vast majority of people imprisoned eventually returning to their community after termination of their sentences. A key area neglected in most prison systems is the need to assist and facilitate prisoners’ transition to the outside world, with comprehensive preparation for release and post-release support programmes. As per the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, social rehabilitation and preparation for release of prisoners should begin during a prisoner’s sentence and continue into the post release period. Unfortunately, rehabilitation remains an under prioritized area in the Egyptian prison system due to a range of factors including limited resources and inadequate attention given to the post-release needs of prisoners.
As Egypt’s population increases, so does the percentage of people living below national poverty line which reached 26.3% in 2014 and unemployment rate reaching 12.9%. Life after prison can be harsh for most prisoners as employment opportunities become difficult either for the lack of labour skills or for the stigma and discrimination faced when it comes to employing a former offender. Studies show that ex-offenders who are unable to find work are three to five times more likely to commit another crime than are those who find employment. The chances of reoffending also increases for former prisoners with a history of drug use and trafficking, prostitution and debt related offenses.
The post-release transition period can be particularly harsh for women. Many female prisoners stay in prison way over their due sentences due to, often minor, administrative, legal procedures and release documents that need to be issued and the lack of support from family to assist in their release. Upon release some women are rejected by their families, denied to come back home and faced with devastating socioeconomic impacts. This is why effective social reintegration programmes are urgently required, taking into account the gender-specific needs of women.
Drug dependence inside prison, coupled with psychosocial disorders could often hinder a former prisoner’s adaptation to the outside world. Upon release, some prisoners return to the community where they can engage in unsafe sexual behaviours and/or high risk drug use especially when they cannot find adequate health services including for drug dependence treatment. A large proportion of offenders thus keep reoffending often for relatively minor crimes, serving successive and relatively short terms of imprisonment. The impact of these repeat offenders on the community is large.
In the absence of legal, psychological and social support at the time of their release, former prisoners may have a very difficult time breaking the cycle of release and re-offending. Life foundation works to promote women’s empowerment towards an easier reintegration to society after prison life through the provision of legal aid, psychosocial rehabilitation, vocational training and job creation/job placement services.
- Project context and analysis
– Project location
Based in Sharqeia Governorate, Life Foundation provides services specifically to post-release prisoners (specifically females) and their families in Qalyubia, Sharqia, Port Said and Beheira Governorates. Under the proposed project, Memoranda of Understanding will be developed with prions in PortSaid, Damanhour, Banha and Zagazig to reach pre-release prisoners.
Banha in Qalyubia Governorate
Zagazig in Sharqia
Port said in port said
Damanhur is a city in Lower Egypt, and the capital of the Beheira Governorate.
Female convicts from Sharqeia and Ismalia governorates are often incarcerated in the Port Said prison for women, while female convicts residing in Alexandria and Damanhour governorates are incarcerated in Damanhour prison.
Portsaid, Banha and Damanhour prisons house both male and female prisoners, while Zagazig prison houses only male prisoners.
– Project environment and Problem description
More socioeconomic data
According to the King’s College London World Prison Brief, the last known independent statistics of the Egyptian prison system were taken as part of the United Nations 10th Survey in December 2006. The results of the survey numbered the prison population at approximately 64,000, with pre-trial detainees making up 9.9%. The same survey indicated the existence of 44 prisons across the country. Unfortunately, no prison data is available on the number of inmates per prison or on the national rates of reoffending.
Prisons are challenging environments, often tense and sometimes violent, for the mental well-being for prisoners. When offenders first enter prison, they find themselves being forced to adapt to an often harsh and rigid institutional routine, deprived of privacy and liberty, and subjected to a diminished and stigmatized status. This is often stressful, unpleasant, and difficult. Isolation from society, poor prison conditions, overcrowding, lack of privacy, in addition to inadequate health services, especially mental health services, induce stress, depression and anxiety among prisoners. This may develop into more serious mental health disorders, which occurs irrespective of whether prisoners had particular mental health care needs on entry. Life Foundation has reported a high level of major depression cases and anxiety disorders among former prisoners.
In most prisons in Egypt initial proper psychiatric screening, follow-up through during transfers and establishment of individual treatment plans are either inadequate or non-existent. Prisoners with existing mental health disorders are therefore not identified on entry and left untreated in an environment that is particularly harmful to their mental well-being. Many people who have both mental health care needs and drug dependence (referred to as co-occurring disorders or co-morbidity) are at particular risk of imprisonment and re-offending. It is important, that during the period leading up to an individual’s release from prison, direct contact and planning with psychosocial support services should start so as to ensure a smooth transition to care in the community.
In Egypt drug use is a penal offence subject to punishment. Hence, drug users also constitute part of the prison population. Some prisoners continue using drugs while incarcerated, while others initiate drug use during imprisonment. In view of the strict prison regulations against drug use and drug supply in prisons, the limited amounts of drugs tend to be shared communally. In the case of injectable drugs, prisoners share the same injecting equipment among themselves. Injecting drugs with shared, non-sterile equipment is one of the leading factors for transmission of HIV and other blood-borne diseases such as hepatitis B and C in prisons. When drug dependence is untreated in prison, the likelihood of re-offending is high, as the former prisoner is prone to committing offences, often to finance the addiction.
Women are particularly vulnerable in prison as women’s psychological, social and health care needs are different. Most women in prison are from socially marginalized groups and some of which have been engaged in sex work. Many have also been victims of gender-based violence. Violence, stigma and discrimination, poor nutrition, early and unwanted pregnancies that women might have been exposed to will require a different set of psychological, social and health care approaches than those needed by men. Many women need support in finding accommodation, especially for those who have no means and are rejected by families.
Access to legal counsel is a basic right to all persons detained, sentenced and imprisoned throughout the criminal justice process. In Egypt the court is obliged to provide a lawyer to indigent defendants. Nevertheless, defendants and sentenced persons often face administrative, and in some cases political, obstacles and are unable to secure regular access to lawyers or family.
In Egypt the judicial system is characterized by weak administrative capacity and a lack of adequate infrastructure. The litigation process is slow with inordinate delays in getting cases resolved. Many female prisoners stay longer than they ought to be with an overall incarceration period longer than the sentence incurred. One of the reasons is the absence of proper legal support for pre-release female prisoners to assist in the procedures of discharge. Prisoners face many problems caused by bureaucratic hurdles whereby the judicial and prison files are not updated. Though a prisoner might have terminated the sentenced period of incarceration, the system does not immediately reflect this. Life Foundation supports women in discharge cases and assists male prisoners in decisions regarding early conditional release (parole) on the basis of medical conditions.
Many female prisoners have little information on their legal rights to enable them and their families to resolve existing legal bottlenecks before and after their release. Specifically, families with no social means and cannot afford private lawyers. Illiteracy constitutes an obstacle to prisoners’ access to justice, especially women. This further exacerbates the long procedures in front of the court, the difficult execution of the decisions rendered by the judges and the lack of access to legal and judicial information.
Women are also disadvantaged in accessing legal counsel in view of societal stigma and discrimination. Women who bore children while in prison, often need to register their children’s birth at the local register office. Unfortunately, in Egypt many births still exist outside the bounds of the state, unrecognized and unaccounted for with children often have difficulty accessing health-care and education; they also have no right to vote.
Police and law enforcement brutality and misconduct in places of detention have been widely reported by human rights organizations and media. Many former prisoners often feel intimidated to report any cases of abuse, assault, threat, harassment or misconduct that took place especially in view that they are former offenders hence perceive that they might not be equal before the law. There are several reports of women facing abuse and assault during detention and incarceration. Life Foundation with its team of social workers, psychologists and lawyers provides a safe haven for former female prisoners to disclose and redress for violations of rights and misconducts.
Unemployment and return to reoffending:
The current financial situation in Egypt and high levels of unemployment make it particularly difficult for former prisoners to find suitable employment. According to the World Bank, Egypt’s economic growth has been moderate, albeit insufficient to absorb the rapidly growing population and labour force. Average per capita income growth has been around 2% per year since 1980 resulting in an increase in unemployment rates and poverty rates.
According to the latest report of the Millennium Development Goals, unemployment in Egypt is concentrated among women and youth. Unemployment rate of women at the national level in 2009 reached 22.9%, which is 4.3 times more the rate for men, estimated at 5.27 %. Numerous indicators are showing a poor quality of jobs created in the Egyptian labor market in recent years. Women as the most vulnerable group within the labor market are highly affected from the general unemployment level since female unemployment is four times the corresponding rate for males and the highest percentage of women are working in the informal sector, or are non-wage family workers. A large proportion of women who have white-collar jobs, work in the government. Accordingly they will be affected by any cuts in the state budget and public expenditure leading to reduction in employment in government and public sector.
Employers are often reluctant to hire former offenders. The stigma associated with imprisonment is clearly a factor, but so is the fact that many former prisoners do not have the education nor the skills to find employment. Employment is a key factor in the successful reintegration of former prisoners. Besides being a source of income, employment provides routine and stability and it contributes to enhanced self-esteem and self-confidence of a former prisoner.
NGO previous experience in the community/with same beneficiaries
Life Foundation has been providing legal, psychosocial and job creation services to former prisoners since 2013. Discussions are underway with National Security and Prison Directorate to initiate the provision of services to pre-release prisoners. This can be undertaken by asking the Prison Directorate to refer to the Initiative names of prisoners about to be released for Life Foundation’s social workers to meet with them in prison and explore the services they will require upon release.
Services provided include:
- Access to justice and legal aid: Many former prisoners avoid contact with the criminal justice system, viewing it as a last resort to resolve disputes or existing legal bottlenecks after their release. Instead, where they have the means and ability, they turn to private lawyers. However, prisoners who are unemployed and those with no social means are often disadvantaged to access justice and cannot afford private lawyers. Life Foundation provides legal aid and ensures that former prisoners, particularly women, understand and claim their rights and are treated equally under the law.
- Psychosocial programme: During incarceration challenges such as isolation from society, poor prison conditions, overcrowding, lack of privacy, and various forms of violence, induce stress, depression and anxiety in many prisoners, which may develop into more serious mental health disorders. Life Foundation provides psychosocial care to address underlying problems among post-release prisoners such as drug dependency and mental health disorders, thus supporting their psychosocial rehabilitation to post prison life. This specifically includes a multidisciplinary psychosocial programme for dealing with post-release stigma and discrimination that supports societal reintegration and a programme for the prevention of re-offending.
- Shelter for former female prisoners: Upon release from prison some women are unable to return to their homes and are rejected due to the perceived shame they bring on their family members. The shame is often related to the criminal offence as well as to the incarceration itself which carries stigma and diverges from what is perceived as the traditional role of a woman. Life Foundation helps women through family reunification programmes to return to their families. This is conducted through mediation by lawyers and social workers, which has proven to be successful. When family reunification is not an option, a shelter is offered for women in need of protection, but also to those who are not immediately able to find accommodation or employment. Social services, vocational training, psychological counselling and legal assistance are offered.
- Vocational training, job placement and job creation (micro-enterprise) programme: Employment reduces recidivism among formerly incarcerated men and women. Beyond providing a paycheck, employment builds work experience, expands skills, and gives the former prisoner a chance to successfully reintegrate into society. Life Foundation undertakes initiatives that strengthen women’s capacity in the job market and for them to become critical agents of social change. This includes provision of educational, vocational training, employment, cultural and recreational activities which are most beneficial to the rehabilitation of prisoners.
- Research: Life Foundation develops sound research as a basis for informed policy formulation in responding to the needs of post-release prisoners. This ensures that policies and strategies aimed at reducing the imprisonment of former prisoners, meet their social reintegration needs in a relevant and effective manner. The research unit is also responsible for the monitoring and evaluation of programmes, whereby further support is required to enhance the M&E system for improved monitoring and evaluation.
- Advocacy and communication: Public awareness raising and dissemination of information on matters relating to prisons are very important, for successful prison reform strategies. For this reason, Life Foundation disseminates reports, surveys and assessments to decision makers in the field, the media, civil society organisations and the public in general in order to advocate for prison reform programmes. The communication strategy includes disseminating information, case studies and assessment reports through social media outlets, press releases, video and photographic documentation.
NGO analysis of the problems and opportunities in relation to the proposed project
- The Foundation’s strengths stand in the team of dedicated professionals including lawyers, psychologists and social workers working directly with former prisoners and their families and focusing their work specifically in Sharqeia, Ismalia and Port Said Governorates.
- The Foundation works closely with criminal justice professionals and civil society organizations to provide rehabilitation programmes to support former prisoners to lead socially integrated lives upon release. Over the years it has gained the trust of the Prison Directorate at the Ministry of Interior.
- The Foundation works under the overall framework of a Strategic Action Plan (2013-2016) with set indicators that guide the programmes and services.
- Funding challenges: Life Foundation programmes have been supported thanks to the generous contribution from the Global Fund for Women, Amnesty International and the Euro Mediterranean Foundation. Unfortunately with the lack of funding there is a risk of cutting valuable services to female prisoners including the shelter and psychosocial support programme. The current political climate in the country has not been conducive for donor funding of civil society organizations. Life Foundation is the only organization providing these services in Ismailia and Port Said.
- Need to strengthen institutional capacity to provide better quality services and measurable outcomes: In order to improve the quality of services provided to former female prisoners, current staff needs to be trained on legal representation, psychosocial support and healthcare issues to better serve former prisoners and to train law enforcement and prison officials. A monitoring and evaluation system needs to be developed with proper indicators and baseline data to improve monitoring and evaluation.
V- Objectives, results, activities, indicators (log frame)
– Strategies and methods of implementation of main activities.
The programme offered by Life Foundation includes pre-release and post release with after care interventions for prisoners. As a social reintegration programme the primary objective is to provide offenders with the assistance needed to help former prisoners to desist from crime successfully and reintegrate into the community and avoid a relapse into crime. This includes the provision of psychosocial, legal services with job placement and job creation programmes. This is undertaken through the following steps:
- Life Foundation to receive referral from prison administration on prisoners two months prior to their release
- Establish first contacts with prisoner and prison case worker to undertake initial assessment and develop transition case plan of services needed upon release
- Undertake meetings with family members to support in family reintegration and reunification
- Support prisoner with any legal aid needed for the discharge and other needed
Post-release and after care phase:
- Comprehensive risks and needs assessments undertaken to assess immediate risk factors and needs upon entry to the programme (1 week post release)
- Transition case plans reviewed and monitored
- Group, individual, art and music therapy (6 months minimum)
- Access to legal aid
- Referral services to drug dependence treatment, HIV prevention and care, psychiatric counseling, gender based violence services, sexual and reproductive health, nutrition and child care
- Support in job placement and job creation programmes. This is subject to the physical and mental health of the former prisoners as assessed by case worker and it will take place only after the successful completion of three months of psychosocial rehabilitation as approved by the social worker
- Follow up and monitoring
– How will the expected results contribute to the needs of beneficiaries
Supporting prisoners’ psychosocial needs
To ensure that post-release prisoners receive psychosocial support according to their needs, an assessment will be undertaken by a social worker. This includes a comprehensive initial and ongoing assessment of existing problems, psychiatric co-morbidities, possible drug dependence, personal history, socioeconomic resources and social support systems. The assessment results in a set of personal treatment goals (transition case plan) for the post release prisoner, and progress towards those goals are monitored and reviewed at regular points over the course of psychosocial support programme.
Upon release the psychosocial programme is developed to provide individually configured plans to meet the needs of post-release prisoners using a case management approach. This includes:
Multidisciplinary programme on stigma and discrimination: individual psychotherapy or general counseling based on a treatment plan, as well as couple therapy, and family therapy as needed. Special attention shall be paid to the maintenance and improvement of relations between a prisoner and his family as are desirable in the best interests of both. Former prisoners requiring psychiatric medications are supported and provided with needed medicines.
Prevention of re-offending programme: This includes group therapy with a focus on anger management, conflict resolution, civic responsibility, how to adapt to post prison life. The programme also offers art therapy which has been shown to have a major impact on self-esteem and confidence, promoting better relaxation, improved sleep, and improved anger management. A programme focusing on life skills education will also be provided.
- c) Recreational interventions: Such as trips organized for post-release prisoners and their families during national holidays and religious festivities (Eid, Ramadan, Christmas etc). This promotes a sense of belonging and connection among post-release prisoners and among their families.
d)Referral to services: such as to outpatients services offering drug dependence treatment, medical services, psychiatric services.
- e) Shelter: The Shelter will provide accommodation for women in need of protection, but also to those who are not immediately able to find accommodation or employment and are therefore in need of shelter until they can provide for themselves. Social services, vocational training, psychological counseling and legal assistance will be offered.
- f) Follow up phase: During this period the former prisoner will be supported as they undergo the vocational training and job creation programme.
Improving access to legal aid
The following legal services will be provided to pre-release and post-release prisoners
- Providing prisoners with information on their rights under the law, including the right to confidential legal aid, the possibilities for further review of their case, appeal, early release and discharge, rights after release for voting and other civic matters including health insurance and education.
- Representation of prisoners in the criminal justice process including submitting of appeals and filing requests related to their treatment and the conditions during imprisonment, as well as representing prisoners in case of additional charges incurred during their detention and imprisonment.
- Monitoring and documenting of violations of rights and misconduct by the law enforcement within detention centres and to support prisoners to redress such violations
– Awareness raising on the right for compensation for periods of remand and for additional periods of detention or incarceration beyond the sentenced period and procedures for complaint- Assisting in the cancellation of criminal records from registry in the case of lack of legal status (disability, disease, lack of precedent- Support in the issuance of legal documentation, national IDs, criminal records, birth, marriage and divorce certificates
- Support in establishing parentage (through parentage disputing) and in the registry of children in civil registry
- Support female prisoners in obtaining their parole and male prisoners in obtaining parole on the basis of medical conditions
- Outreach to prisoners and their families. Raising awareness of families is often a plan in case prison authorities do not allow the organization’s team to visit. Documentation of cases and needs, both humanitarian and legal, are determined and gauged through these missions. Reports are drafted for each visit which helps to determine the best ways to offer legal assistance.
- Supporting prisoners in presenting legal cases to the Egyptian Council of State for the removal of former prisoners from criminal records. Failure in doing so allows the police and other law enforcement to utilize available and outdated criminal records in continued detention on the basis of suspected offence.
Supporting former prisoners in finding employment and in creating micro-enterprise businesses
The vocational training and employment programme will meet the immediate needs of former prisoners seeking employment both as skilled labourers such as with sewing and tailoring. This includes also a literacy programme. Memorandums of Understanding will be established with businesses and factories for the employment of rehabilitated former prisoners who have successfully undergone the psychosocial programme. Based on the presentation of a project proposal, former prisoners can be supported through small income generation projects. This will include communal micro-enterprise projectssuch as packaging and distribution of precooked food, mobile repairing, sewing and tailoring, jewelry making, hairdressing, car maintenance and repairing, poultry, selling of products on cars that utilize solar energy. In case of inappropriate behaviour, unjustified long absence from the follow up group therapy, or any other significant fault, the small income generation project may be terminated.
– Relevance of the project activities to the objectives and expected results
International standards and norms reaffirm that the rehabilitation of offenders and their successful reintegration into the community are among the basic objectives of the criminal justice process. These emphasize the importance of interventions to support the reintegration of offenders as a means to prevent further crime and protect society.
Desisting from committing crimes takes place when certain factors are addressed such as the acquisition of new skills, full-time employment, addressing psychosocial issues, being able to return to one’s family or to start a new family. The programme adopted by Life Foundation emphasizes long-term change over short-term, recognizing that that progress is likely to take time with possible relapses. The focus is on supporting former prisoners, especially women to see themselves in a new and more positive light, with hope for the future and to provide them with the skills to face personal challenges and successfully reintegrate into the community.
The relevance of project activities towards reintegration to society with no reoffending lies on the following assumptions.
- Activities address risk factors related to offending: unsupportive families, legal hurdles, drug dependence, lack of labour skills, poor interpersonal skills, illiteracy..etc.
- Services (legal, psychosocial and job placement) are part of an integrated programme designed to address each prisoner’s specific issues and challenges.
- Special attention shall be paid to prisoners known to Life Foundation to have higher chances of reoffending and that includes prisoners with drug dependence histories, former prisoners who were sentenced for prostitution, dangerous crimes and debt related crimes.
 Human Rights: A Compilation of International Instruments, Volume I (First Part), Universal Instruments (United Nations publication, Sales No. E.02.XIV.4 (Vol. I, Part 1)), sect. J, No. 34.
 UNDP Human Development Report 2014, Egypt Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics – CAPMAS
 UNODC. Introductory Handbook on the Prevention of Recidivism and the Social Reintegration of Offenders. Criminal Justice Handbook Series. Vienna: 2012. Available from http://www.unodc.org/documents/justice-and-prison-reform/crimeprevention/Prevention_of_Recidivism_and_Social_Reintegration_12-55107_Ebook.pdf
 King’s College London, International Centre for Prison Studies, World Prison Brief: Available at http://www.kcl.ac.uk/depsta/law/research/icps/worldbrief/wpb_country.php?country=16
 Available at www.worldbank.org/en/country/egypt/overview
 UNDP. Egypt’s Progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals. 2010. Available at http://www.undp.org/content/dam/undp/library/MDG/english/MDG%20Country%20Reports/Egypt/2010%20MDGR_English_R5.pdf