Inmate population in Uganda prisons has grown by 230 per cent in the last nine years from over 19,000 in 2006 to 45,000 in June 2015.
According to a report by the Auditor General for FY 2014, five major prisons have an occupancy rate of above 500 per cent. But this even gets worse with closer scrutiny of the numbers at individual prison level. Gulu prison has an occupancy rate of 508 per cent; Ntungamo with 720 per cent; Kisoro with 906 per cent; Kabale at 651 per cent and Rukungiri at 530 per cent.
The report further reveals that out of the current 45,000 prisoners being held in the 247 prisons across the country, at least 28,500 prisoners cannot be accommodated well.
During a review of the report by Parliament on the Public Accounts Committee, Eddie Kwizera, Bufumbira East MP, says this is a violation of the prisoners’ human rights and should be addressed urgently. He says the Prisons service should also find mechanisms of releasing prisoners who were previously awaiting the death penalty after the courts banned it.
“The spaces are so small that may be they don’t even sleep, they stand which is a violation of human rights…there are those who were condemned and are supposed to have died so they are occupying space [yet] they are not supposed to be there”, he said.
Western Youth MP, Gerald Karuhanga, such congestion poses a high health risk to prisoners. He recalled an incident where a female inmate revealed that they live in unhygienic prisons and do not have adequate bedding facilities.
“Some of them do not only stand, but the level of hygiene is unbelievable that apart from when there is inspection [when] they organise nice beds, they bring in mattresses, they give them bed sheets [but] as soon the [visitors] leave like this; they go back to their very terrible circumstances to the extent that they even told us that the ladies hold blood in their hands irrespective of the many billions you get from government, a lot of money from donors, what you collect from your sales of produce. Surely is this what you have chosen to keep people living like in your cells and yet the budget has been increasing every year?”,
Emmanuel Dombo, Bunyole East MP, suggests that courts and prisons use the pre-bargaining system where persons who have committed petty crimes are subjected to community service, instead of being kept in prisons.
However, the Under-Secretary in the Prisons Service, Simon Kimono, blames the poor conditions of the inmates on parliament that has failed to adopt their proposals to get funding to build more facilities. The service needs at least Shs 19bn annually over a four-year period to build five low security prisons to reduce congestion.
“This question of congestion of Uganda Prisons, for us we brought it here for your attention because we want you to help us to get more funds and build more prisons and rehabilitate them because none of us is safe. We can end up there. We even went ahead and made a proposal which we have given you for about three times. This is a proposal we made to the ministry of Finance; ‘Please make us breathe”
Prisons revealed plans to build a new mini-maximum prison in Kitalya to hold at least 1000 prisoners serving long terms and life imprisonment, at a cost of Shs 25bn.