A small start-up from Sierra Leone has won a prestigious award for its innovative approach to justice. Crime Sync collects data along the justice chain from the inception of a case to its final adjudication, providing a single view of an alleged offender’s journey.
The CEO and founder of CrimeSync, Sorieba Daffae, was in The Hague to receive the prize at the annual Innovating Justice Forum organised by The Hague Institute for Innovation of Law (HIIL).
— HiiL (@InnoJustice) February 6, 2019
Justice Hub spoke to Daffae, who hails from Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital, on the sidelines of year’s event. He told us that CrimeSync addresses one of the major challenges in the justice sector generally – fixing the system:
“Even though advocacy and legal education is very important, the criminal justice system itself is not functioning as it should be,” said Daffae.
You can read the rest of our chat with Daffae below. The interview is part of our #MyJustice series.
Justice Hub: What’s wrong with the justice system in Sierra Leone?
After our 11 years’ war – which led some of us to live all our teenage lives in complete displacement, in refugee camps in neighbouring countries like Guinea and The Gambia, and lose very close family members, including my mum – we came back to Sierra Leone after the war around 2002.
Justice Hub: What did you see when you got back?
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission [link] was set up cited the criminal justice system as a key contributor to the war and so I was more inspired to see how I can fix that with my legal and technology background. I’m both a legal person and a technopreneur and software developer, so I blend both.
Justice Hub: How did you become a technopreneur if you were in refugee camps in different places?
Just curiosity and wanting to learn everything.
Justice Hub: Self-taught?
Not self-taught – I went to the university as well – but I just wanted to create impact but I needed the blend of those skills to be able to do what I’m good at best and reach out to more people, so that led me to the justice sector generally. So instead of going outside, we decided to target the police, the courts, the prosecution office and the prisons and see how we can do systems that connect all these institutions.
Justice Hub: Are they not connected at the moment?
Everybody is working alone in silos. Either they tell you a case is missing in place or the judges are yet to sit on a particular matter. Prisons are overcrowded. In Freetown for instance, the prison was built for 324 people and it’s now accommodating 2053 so you can imagine that’s more than 600% overcrowding.
Justice Hub: What conditions are people living in?
It’s terrible. But beyond that, it also goes beyond the control of the prison officer … because they cannot tell who is who in those individuals and who’s next to go to court – because there are so many. It is also needed to inform policy: can you tell who are those committing petty offences and where are they from in the country, can you involve the ministry of finance for instance to do cash transfers? But if you cannot collect this volume of data then you are just going to deal with the punitive aspect of criminality – so, when they commit crimes and you capture them.
Justice Hub: What difference does data make?
It informs policy. It gives you an insight for instance in our recent analysis we have found out that around 20% of the murder offences are committed in a specific side of the country, why is that? If you start asking yourself questions it opens the door to a lot of conversations and advocacy and this data is also given to NGOs to finding ways of fine-tuning the programs to address those community-based challenges.
Justice Hub: Is there capacity within the justice sector to actually understand, read and make most of the data? Do people have to be educated in understanding it?
That’s what we are pushing for because we present data that tells them they are spending more and they can spend less with data in front of them. So our country in 2007 spent around 8 million dollars on just the prison management system, that is to guard, feed and house prisoners. Imagine if you can invest a million of that in technology and just have a few staff but because they have a wider insight into what is happening in the whole prison they can manage more efficient models.
It’s more or less trying to save costs and at the same time manage the whole rehabilitation process within the prison so that they have a better integration as well that is for prisons and the court system for it to function well. So it has a lot of impact. But we also engaged in training, we train them a lot; some of them are afraid of computers. We train them a lot and give them the confidence and the fact that we are involved in the development of these solutions they see it as theirs. We don’t just impose any technology on them, we develop it together. It’s just a code coming from us but the idea and processes are all driven by them.
Justice Hub: What would a good, functioning justice system look like to you?
In a good, functioning criminal justice system, when somebody lodges a complaint to the police, that incident is tracked immediately and investigations are carried out and the documents kept in the system and that is channelled through a process to the state prosecutors who advise electronically and also take paper out of it, send it to court where the courts sit on it and adjourn those matters or pass verdict and that person is also sent to prison with the same trail of information. So it brings accountability to the fore, which judge is sitting too long on matters, why are investigators staying long on this investigation.
So it gives the leadership some insight into what they are doing and how you can improve and be more efficient. So that’s a real functioning justice system that does not just look at the institutions individually rather as part of the whole package. So the policeman knows somebody knows depends on his data at the prosecution’s office and the prosecution’s office knows I have to send this to court, and the court also knows I have to feed the prisons with this information. And so the circle is closed and it gives a better functioning justice system all over the world that is needed.
HiiL organizes this annual competition to promote justice innovations. The competition drew over 1000 innovators. From these, a longlist of 400 was compiled, out of which a final 12 were invited to pitch their solution for an urgent access to justice issue at the 9th Innovating Justice Forum at the Peace Palace in The Hague, the Netherlands.