Liberia: Ernestine K.B. Dowie, probation officer

Ernestine K.B. Dowie, probation officer in Liberia

In Liberia those accused of crimes often wait for years in overcrowded prisons for their trial. The government is seeking change – for example through the concept of probation. Probation officer Ernestine K. B. Dowie is advocating for clients to get a fairer criminal law procedure. On behalf of the German Federal Foreign Office GIZ has trained 30 probation officers in Liberia Since then 200 detainees were granted probation.

How did you become a probation officer?

I always dreamed to be a counselor. Someone who will be able to influence other peoples life for the better. When I saw the call for applicants in the newspaper offered by GIZ I decided to go for it.

What does your work mean to you now?

There are so many less fortunate people in this country that some blow of fate brought behind bars for minor crime like stealing a chicken, a mobile phone or a motor-bike. I show them a path and help them get a second chance.

How is everyday life in Liberia?

Life in Liberia can be really hard. We are just coming from war and finding ourselves at a recovering stage. Some people don’t know how to afford three meals a day and how to send their kids to school. You sometimes get the feeling that everybody is just thinking about themselves and not the common welfare. But I can notice slow improvements.

If there was a fairy and you had a wish. Is there anything you would want to change in your life?

I think my life is perfect as it is: I have a job, a husband, a little child and a home. But there are certain things about the system in my country that I want to change. Therefore I need to double my effort and improve on my studies, try to go back to school and maybe get a master and see how I can contribute to my country as a whole. It is my own struggle, not a for a fairy to solve.

What would you do, if you won in the lottery?

I am a person who has always dreamed of serving humanity. If I had loads of money, I wouldn’t just give it to people living in the streets but find ways to empower them. And I would build an orphanage.


        
    
Giving justice a chance: In many countries of West Africa, the justice system is inefficient and lacks transparency. Civil and criminal law procedures are often unfair.
Giving justice a chance: In many countries of West Africa, the justice system is inefficient and lacks transparency. Civil and criminal law procedures are often unfair.

        
    
An eye for detail: Probation officer Ernestine K. B. Dowie interviews one of her clients prior to the hearing. Photos: Clair MacDougall
An eye for detail: Probation officer Ernestine K. B. Dowie interviews one of her clients prior to the hearing. Photos: Clair MacDougall

        
    
Impossible to ignore: Defendants in orange overalls, their hands bound with cable ties, wait for their hearing at the court in Monrovia.
Impossible to ignore: Defendants in orange overalls, their hands bound with cable ties, wait for their hearing at the court in Monrovia.

        
    
Playing a number of roles: Separation of powers is not established in legal reality everywhere in Liberia.
Playing a number of roles: Separation of powers is not established in legal reality everywhere in Liberia.

        
    
The letter of the law: One fifth of magistrates in lower courts are said to have problems with reading and writing.
The letter of the law: One fifth of magistrates in lower courts are said to have problems with reading and writing.

        
    
Often on the road: Probation officer Ernestine K. B. Dowie on the way to see her client Morris Clinton, for whom she has arranged a work placement.
Often on the road: Probation officer Ernestine K. B. Dowie on the way to see her client Morris Clinton, for whom she has arranged a work placement.

        
    
Pumping up tyres straight from prison: Morris Clinton is accused of having stolen plastic chairs and other objects worth EUR 4.50 from a local church.
Pumping up tyres straight from prison: Morris Clinton is accused of having stolen plastic chairs and other objects worth EUR 4.50 from a local church.

        
    
An ear for the victims: Pastor Kollie presides over the church community from which Morris Clinton is alleged to have stolen. He endorses the suspended sentence.
An ear for the victims: Pastor Kollie presides over the church community from which Morris Clinton is alleged to have stolen. He endorses the suspended sentence.

        
    
Help for the family: Three of Morris’ children and his wife still live at home. The suspended sentence programme helps with the rent and school fees.
Help for the family: Three of Morris’ children and his wife still live at home. The suspended sentence programme helps with the rent and school fees.

        
    
Learning for the future: The programme also has a training centre where handicrafts are taught.
Learning for the future: The programme also has a training centre where handicrafts are taught.

        
    
With the police: Ali Sylla, coordinator of the suspended sentence programme, discusses a case with a police officer.
With the police: Ali Sylla, coordinator of the suspended sentence programme, discusses a case with a police officer.

        
    
Preparing for a consultation: Dowie has five clients in her charge. They will part company once the suspended sentences of one to four years are completed.
Preparing for a consultation: Dowie has five clients in her charge. They will part company once the suspended sentences of one to four years are completed.