‘We have no breathing room in the cells’

The Uganda Prison Service (UPS) says they house many remand prisoners and civil debtors, leading to overcrowding in prisons across the country.

Addressing prison governors at the opening of a workshop on prison infrastructure in Africa on Tuesday,

Director of Prisons Dr. Johnson Byabashaija said the prison has a total population of 76,367 inmates.
Among them, 39,453 people have been convicted, 36,442 have been remanded, and 472 are civil debtors, bringing the total occupancy rate to 366.76%. Hepatitis B and tuberculosis infection rates are high.

“This is why discussions about prison infrastructure are important. We looked at incarceration rates in the region. In Uganda, 168 people are imprisoned per 100,000 Ugandans. Kenya ranked 107th and Burundi 83rd , South Sudan ranks 58th, and Tanzania ranks lowest at 50th.”

He added that overcrowding in prisons also affects the quality of life and accommodation of prison officers because prisoners sleep in the same way as prison officers.

He further stated that they were forced to set up an engineering department which is currently constructing new prisons to cater for the growing inmate population and staff accommodation needs.

Mr. Henry Tiberondwa, Director of Engineering Department of UPS, said they operate 49 government prisons and 222 prison units, including district local government prisons across the country.

In the 2006/2007 national budget, the government allocated $40,000 to UPS for infrastructure development. In the 2010/11 financial year, the government increased funding to $80,000, while in the 2016/17 financial year they received $400,000. He added that they recently spent $1.3 million renovating dilapidated buildings that house high-profile criminals.

“Currently we are doing the construction ourselves. Many factors are affecting maintenance, including (lack of) political will. Until politicians started visiting prisons as customers, their attitude towards maintenance changed. We are now developing a maintenance plan. “We There are regional maintenance officers who take all measures whenever there is a problem with water and sanitation,” Mr Tibelondwa added.

Prison spokesman Frank Bain said as an entity they have no control over crowding at the prison because their job is to house inmates.

He added that given that the law stipulates that the remand period for prisoners is only 180 days, some prisoners will be held for more than two years without trial or conviction.

He recommended that prisoners who have been in jail for an extended period of time approach the government to extend their detention.
The seminar was officially opened by the Minister of Interior, General Kahinda Otafiire, who advised prison governors to utilize the idle human resources of different professionals in prisons to improve living conditions.

He said prisons housed highly qualified engineers, accountants and scientists whose expertise could be used to combat poverty and improve living conditions inside prisons.

Mr Christophe Satter, head of the ICRC’s regional delegation, said they have been helping share the challenges faced by African prisons.

He further said that apart from inadequate water supply and sanitation facilities, poor maintenance of prison facilities leading to inhumane conditions faced by prisoners is also the biggest challenge.

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