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Gendered crime: What offences take men, women to prison?

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Prisoners at Lira Prison. Hudson Apunyo he Welfare and Rehabilitation Division of UPS has several interventions to rehabilitate and reform inmates. Some include, counseling, skills training, and functional adult literacy.   PHOTO/FILE

As the praise session at Junias the World Changers Chapel gets underway, the sky seems to be getting darker. ‘Chapel’ is really a fancy word for the tiny room in which this congregation is meeting, in Jjagala village, Gombe sub-county in Wakiso district, a distance of 30 km from Kampala City. 
Its 10am on a Thursday morning, and as the worship session sets in, the Overseer slides up the volume knob on the sound system so that the rain beating down heavily on the iron sheets does not drown out the music.

  Pastor Noah Sseejjuuko is the preacher of the day. His sermon is based on the life of the biblical Joseph, who was accused of raping his boss’ (Potiphar) wife. After Joseph’s stint in prison, he was elevated to vice regent of the pharaoh of Egypt.  
Sseejjuuko served seven years at Murchison Bay Prison in Luzira, Kampala City, after he was convicted of defilement. He was released in November last year. However, he insists he was not a criminal, saying he was set up after a coffee deal soured.

“There were disagreements over money. On November 13, 2016, our village chairman, Kateete, found me in my home and asked me to accompany him to the police post. I did not know what he was going to do there, but I went anyway. At the police post, he told the officer-in-charge that someone had accused me of defiling a young girl. I was shocked. At first, the OC was skeptical because as a former special police constable, I was still doing some work for the police. But, I told him to lock me up as we waited for the victim to appear and make a statement,” Sseejjuuko says.

The alleged victim never turned up. The chairman also never returned to the police post. After spending three weeks at the police post, Sseejjuuko was remanded into custody at Muyinaina Prison in Mubende district. His case file was misplaced, though, and he ended up spending three years on remand. Some of these years were spent at Murchison Bay Prison where he was transferred after a stomach ailment. 

“I waited for court summons in vain. I then requested to be transferred back to Muyinaina Prison. When I got there, I found that the judges were only hearing plea bargain cases. If you did not agree to a plea bargain, you had to wait for an undetermined time for a court session,” he says.  
 The father of four says he was compelled to admit to committing the offence because, according to him, being sentenced is better than spending many years on remand. 

 “I weighted the options for a few days. I was ill and depressed. I had met inmates who had spent 10 years on remand, with no hope of seeing the inside of a courtroom. So, I confessed to a crime I never committed. The judge rejected my plea bargain because there was no case file. But, he later sentenced me to seven years. Since I had spent three years on remand, I was to serve only four years,” he says.

Adams Hasiyo

Sex differences in crime
Records from the Uganda Prisons Service (UPS) show that for the last seven years, defilement tops convictions for men, while murder is the top crime committed by women. 
As of March 2024, 14,681 men are incarcerated for crimes related to defilement. For capital offences, 7,405 men are convicted for aggravated defilement, 5,356 men are convicted murderers, 2,620 are convicted for aggravated robbery while 1,977 are convicted rapists. 

In the remand section, 4,942 men are remanded for aggravated defilement, 5,315 men are one remand for murder, 3,547 are remanded for aggravated robbery while 1,466 are on remand for rape. 

On the other hand, 715 women are convicted murderers, 52 are convicted traffickers of children, 42 are convicted for aggravated defilement, while 29 women are convicted for aggravated robbery. 
 Frank Baine, the Senior Commissioner of Prisons for Cooperation and Corporate Affairs, attributes the rise in defilement convictions to some cultural norms that believe a girl’s puberty indicates that she is ready to have a man. 

 “The crime of defilement is relatively new in the legal circles. It came with the 1995 Constitution. The fact that defilement is now a crime is repugnant to cultures in which girls are married off at 13 or 14 years. In some religions, they do not even wait for puberty. A girl can be married off any time. When you combine the total cases for minor and aggravated defilement, the crime surpasses other capital offenses,” he says.
 For the petty offenders in March 2024, 7025 men were convicted for breaking, burglary and theft, 2198 men were convicted for stealing cattle, 1426 were convicted for defilement and attempted defilement, 1174 were convicted for firearms related offences. 

Adams Hasiyo

 For the women petty offenders, 277 were convicted for breaking, burglary and theft, 99 were convicted of manslaughter, 84 were convicted for doing grievous harm and 56 were convicted for attempted murder. 
 “The rise in petty offenses can be attributed to men shunning honest work and resorting to theft. Women’s problems are more of occupational in nature. Many women work in saloons and homes, where it is common for one to be suspected of stealing a phone, necklace or a small amount of money kept in a drawer. The other crimes are usually crimes of passion or failing to manage anger,” Baine says.   
Reforms undertaken 
The Welfare and Rehabilitation Division of UPS has several interventions to rehabilitate and reform inmates. Some include, counseling, skills training, and functional adult literacy. 
 Adams Hasiyo, a principal rehabilitation and welfare officer, says spiritual and moral rehabilitation, as a behavioural intervention, has changed the outlook of many inmates.

 “We have our a chaplaincy. However, we have partners with several faith-based organisations, who come into our 269 prisons to counsel and preach to the inmates. With guidance from the clergy, inmates undergo a spiritual journey. You are more likely to find God in prison than if you were in any other place. Inmates have the time to reflect on their lives and pray,” he says. 
 While in prison, Sseejjuuko trained as a counselor. He also graduated from the sexual offenders rehabilitation program. In the first year of his sentence, the born-again Christian took over as senior pastor of Murchison Bay Pentecostal Church, after the previous pastor completed his sentence.
 “The prison had faith in my abilities and I preached the Word for four years. During that time, I counseled many inmates, some of whom left me in prison. I believe that prison might not change an offender but the Word of God can. Prison is there to keep you in custody, even for 300 years, but in itself, it rarely changes someone. During that time, I also interacted with different pastors who came to minister to us from other churches,” he says.
 Pastor Robert Wanambwa, the Executive Director of Prisons Fellowship Uganda (PFU), believes crime comes from the inside and as such, all interventions should aim at changing the inmate’s heart. 

“All rehabilitation programs that do not touch the root cause of crime are just massaging the problem. PFU runs a powerful program called The Prisoners Journey, where we strongly believe that Christ is able to touch the root of the problem and help the prisoner come out a transformed person. The program is run in partnership with a number of born-again churches,” he says.

Pastor Ronald Wanambwa, Executive Director, Prison Fellowship Uganda

Life outside prison 
Social and behavioural rehabilitation interventions stop once the inmate leaves prison. Hasiyo says these interventions have had a high success rate. 
“Currently, for every 100 inmates who leave prison only 13 reoffend and come back. We equip inmates with vocational skills that place them in a position to earn money when they are released. We have gone a step further and are now giving them start-up business kits. We encourage the public accept these people back into the community and to support them to restart life,” he says. 

  UPS also has social workers that travel to an inmate’s community before he or she is released to interact with community leaders and relatives. This is done to reduce on the bad blood that exists between the inmate and the relatives of the victims of the crime committed.
 “The social workers carry out mediation and reconciliation on the inmate’s behalf. We have found that the reintegration of women is very complicated. In most cases, the community is not ready to receive them. Remember, these women leave their father’s homes, get married in a different community, live there for a long time and commit crimes there. Society is very unforgiving of these women because they don’t belong, that is why our social workers try to soften the ground before they are released,” Hasiyo says.

Pastor Sseejjuuko’s reintegration was smooth. He says he forgave all his accusers. It also helped that on the day he returned to the village, he was in the company of a number of pastors.  
“My neighbours thought I would seek revenge because I was once a security personnel. They were scared but I quickly allayed their fears. I organised a party and invited the entire village. To me, I had resurrected because people say prison is grave yard – and indeed it is if you do not have Jesus,” he says.

Many people attended his welcome-home party and 12 of them became born-again.
“My accuser, Kateete, did not attend the party because he had other engagements. However, he came to visit me the next day and asked me to forgive him. I forgave him; and he forgave me. God really changed me on the inside. Of course, sometimes I get bitter when I think about the time I lost and the things I would have done in those seven years. But, the Grace of God comforts me,” Sseejjuuko says.

He adds that because he returned as a pastor, he did not suffer stigma, as other former inmates might have suffered. Pastor Wanambwa commends local churches for being the first line of support for former inmates. 
 “Inmates who go through our programs are given a certificate and a Bible. When they are released, we encourage them to look for a church, introduce themselves and the work we have done in them, and where possible request that we speak to the church leadership. These churches introduce the former inmates to society, telling them that they might have left as murderers, thieves or rapists, but the story has changed. If the former inmate’s home is in another district, the churches raise some basics from their Sunday services, such as, transport, shoes, clothing and transport,” he says.

 Back at the small chapel, Sseejjuuko concludes his sermon, telling the congregation that like the biblical Joseph, God can lift them out of whatever dire situation they are in, and place them in a seat of honour. The congregation claps heartily, receiving every word that falls from his lips. 

Then, the Overseer says the final words and we have the concluding prayer. Outside, the downpour has subsided. Its 1pm.
  While some former inmates receive startup packages, many return to nothing. As a temporary pastor in this chapel, Sseejjuuko has to pay rent for his single room and educate his children. And yet he is unemployed.