Act promptly on prison grievancesAct promptly on prison grievances
Posted Sunday, February 17 2013 at 02:23
On Wednesday, inmates at Lira prison rioted and the regular and military police reinforcement had to be called in to help warders calm the situation.
The prisoners were protesting their long detention without trial. In detention, the prisoners may feel done in by a system that finds it difficult to dispense justice and a justice, law and order sector that finds comfort in removing suspected wrongdoers from society, not to give them justice but to provide immediate accountability sometimes for political reasons.
But they are not alone in their predicament, the prison services share as much in this situation, not as perpetrator, but as a victim as well.
A few statistics will help. Because of the slow wheels of justice, the prisons service finds itself working more as a “holding” facility instead of the correctional institute it is supposed to be.
The prison population on remand currently stands at 54 per cent and according to Commissioner General of Prisons Johnson Byabashaija, a man who in practice and confession, is passionate about improving the service, average remand time stands at one –and-a-half years, although some have stayed for three years, while there are cases of five or more years on remand.
As a result, prisons are congested with people some of whom serve longer on remand than their actual sentences.
The system works on a shoe-string budget of Shs70 billion, covering both recurrent and development expenditure when its actual need is at least Shs200 billion.
Even then, this amount is only to provide basic services like basic food and accommodation. Prison maintenance budget stands at a miserly Shs200 million, the reason you have derelict buildings collapsing on both prisoners and their keepers.
If the prisons system is to adequately serve as a correctional facility, it should have a reasonable budget for convicts to serve their sentences with some decency. It is their human right, after all.
However, for a proper budget to be made and implemented, prisoners should not be remanded longer than their sentences dictate or it will not be possible to plan appropriately.