Remand prisoners are just too many
Posted Sunday, March 10 2013 at 02:00
Rioting of on-remand suspects forced to endure inhumane conditions in overcrowded cells because of delayed prosecution in Lira and Masaka again highlighted the travesty of justice perpetuated under Uganda’s court system.
Something must be done about the high prison population today stuffed in the hothouse facilities which were built to accommodate much fewer people. Invariably, the answers to this dilemma revolve around the curiosity that prisoners on remand often outnumber convicts. What this reveals is the unhappy reality that the wheels of justice continue to turn at a snail’s pace – in the process violating suspects’ constitutional rights to a speedy trial.
The key principal of presumption of innocence upon which our legal system is built is also repeatedly abused as suspects are illegally punished by deprivation of their freedom without sentencing. Consider the case of Fort Portal in western Uganda where 335 inmates are languishing on remand in jail because there is no judge to try their cases. The Fort Portal prison built during colonial times, like most correctional facilities around the country, should have been home to 293 detainees. Today it holds 880.
One way to remove the absurdity of congested cell blocks from the country’s prison system is to take decisive action on the manpower deficit on the court benches. President Museveni, who appoints officials cannot continue waffling about the requirement for an extra 41 judges to make up for the obtaining deficit on the High Court circuit. The Judicial Service Commission should also ensure that magisterial jurisdictions also benefit from infusions of desperately required manpower to aid quick resolution of matters.
Excuses about there being no money to recruit the necessary labour are redundant since the State has demonstrated that it can maintain thousands (however marginally) being held on remand at a higher cost than employing more judges would require.
Time is overdue for the system to appreciate that it also exists to facilitate the correctional objective of legal sanctions placed upon individuals, not only to punish crime. It follows, therefore, that it is not limited in helping convicts mend their ways through custodial sentences. Community service is still a universally recognised alternative to imprisonment, especially for petty offenders. The benefits are infinite: helps reduce costs, provides a useful public service, offers the opportunity for rapid justice to be delivered to perpetrators, decongests prisons et cetera.