Uganda Prisons Service human rights record has gradually improved thanks to the “Open Door Policy” introduced by the 2006 Prisons Act.
Findings of a study published in the Journal of Human Rights Practice August 2017 indicate that the adoption of an open door policy has seen an improvement in treatment of offenders.
But it notes that some prisons officers bend and use physical violence to actually ensure custodial control.
The study finds that Uganda Prison Service (UPS), for instance, has adopted the vision statement ‘To be a centre of excellence in providing human rights based correctional service in Africa.”
On the face of it, that according to the study may this may seem like an uphill task but observes that Uganda Prisons has been going through been going through a highly regarded human rights-based reform process.
The major challenge to the Prisons authority is how to handle the increasing number of prisoners. The number of prisoners stands at nearly 50,000 prisoners – and has almost doubled in the last ten years.
” A significant milestone according to the study was the Open Door Policy of the year 2000, which explicitly invited potentially critical external actors into the prison institution in order to build new alliances and to attract funds,” reads part of the study.
It says the prison system seems to be changing accordingly: violations of prisoners’ rights decreasing, budgets increase, management is tightened, and that material progress can be charted across the institutional landscape.
A new Prison Act in 2006 and new policies of imprisonment were introduced that explicitly drew upon human rights standards; staff were subject to human rights training; and institutional procedures – from budgeting to complaint handling – were framed formally by human rights.
The changes are hailed as part of the 20 years of Uganda Human Rights Commission whose annual reports have equally observed ‘significant’ and ‘remarkable improvements’ in prisoners’ rights, and to refered to Uganda Prisons Services as a human rights ‘responsive’ and ‘appreciative’ orgnisation making ‘commendable steps to curb torture’
The study concludes that much remains hidden in Ugandan prisons, but the openness still represents a significant change in Uganda Prisons Services.
Victor Aioka , the Assistant Commissioner of Prisons is also head of the Human Rights Directorate has a vivid memory of the rot in prisons before the new law came into force.
Aioka says serving prisons officers and new entrants to the Prisons Academy and Training school have to undergo human rights training.
He said periodic inspections by Uganda Human Rights Commission has ensured that they improve the living conditions of the inmates.
Victor Aioka is mindful of the tall walls with very small ventilations at most prisons including Kigo Prisons where he was recently meeting officials from Uganda Human Rights Commission.
It was common in the past to see prison warders in very old uniforms. The situation was even worse for the prisoners according to Aioka.
A prison warder who asked for anonymity confirmed the fact that the condition has totally changed with each of the officers having at least three pairs of uniform.