Alexander McLean

Ashoka Fellow
London, United Kingdom
Fellow Since 2014


This profile was prepared when Alexander McLean was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2014.
The New Idea
Alexander McLean founded the African Prisons Project (APP) in 2007 to bring hope and dignity into prisons in Africa from the bottom up. Based on the conviction that dignity cannot exist in a vacuum, Alexander’s idea begins with building a baseline of health and education opportunities for people in prison. This includes establishing Uganda’s first prison libraries, giving access to a complete pipeline of education options from primary to higher education, and generating new low-cost health services. Alexander’s vision brings empathy into prisons one by one, working hand-in-hand with key staff as a leverage point. The APP connects these individuals with the tools, education and surrounding ecosystem they need to take on leadership and implement prison reform from the inside. Alexander believes that only by working at this grassroots level with people inside of prisons can systemic change truly be created, especially in a geographical region with very limited financial and staffing resources available.
The effects are bridging to the highest levels of governance, the judiciary system and the public. The APP’s work and network of leaders have successfully engaged local officials, the Ugandan Prison Service (UPS), judges, the clergy and local media. The UPS now aims to establish education resource centres in many of the country’s prisons, to provide every prison with village health teams, and to adapt its practices to reflect an increased focus on rehabilitation. It has provided many prisons with rehabilitation “councillors” (a project initially developed by the APP), and hopes to develop training programmes for village health teams in 240 prisons. To date the APP’s work has directly engaged with over 25,000 inmates in three countries, and made education and health facilities available to over 100,000 people. Alexander is now rolling out work in Kenya, exploring a partnership with the South Sudan Prison Service, and has received requests to partner with ten additional countries. Public opinion in the region is currently weighted towards punishing prisoners, rather than rehabilitating them. But the APP’s work is transforming perception towards people in prison, catalysing the realisation that these people deserve to be treated with humanity. In turn, people in prisons are regaining their self worth and taking back control of their lives to build more positive futures.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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