OCTOBER 6, 2010: Prisoners Have Rights Too

Prisoners Have Rights Too

SOURCE: The Observer

The report from the country's prisons is disheartening. According to a report released recently by the Justice Law and Order Sector (JLOS), the country's prisons are overcrowded.

First, according to the report, the approved holding capacity of Uganda Prisons is 13,670 prisoners. Today, the prison population stands at 31,127. The most affected districts are Bushenyi, where more than 668 prisoners are housed in space meant for 146 persons.

It is followed by Kiruhura district where 104 prisoners are kept in space meant to accommodate 28 people.

This means that the efforts to correct people and keep away criminals in society have not matched with the capacity to build appropriate correctional facilities. In the end, the prisoners leave these facilities with characters worse than when they joined - defeating the purpose for which they were locked up.

Overcrowding is dehumanizing and is a recipe for disease outbreaks. While prisoners are deprived of their liberty, they should not be denied their right to life and human dignity. Congestion means that some people may contract diseases like Tuberculosis (TB), skin diseases, and other contagious ailments.

Overcrowding also means that the prisoners will be deprived of the basic necessities like blankets and clean sanitary facilities.

Some of the reasons for these congestions are long pretrial detentions, prolonged remands and loss of interest in cases by the accusers. In some cases, prisons have become dumping grounds and areas to settle personal scores.

The judiciary should change the way it handles cases. For instance, the conditions for bail, especially for less grievous cases, should be relaxed. They should also avoid unnecessarily remanding people to prison and imposing custodial sentences.

It is also high time that the judiciary adopted community service, where the offenders would instead be punished by doing work in their communities instead of being locked up.

Other countries have invested in technology. Government can use our LC system and technology to tag electronic chips onto prisoners so they could be monitored. This will free the prisons because the offenders would serve their sentences from their homes.

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