While building or expanding prisons capacity can help to reduce overcrowding in the detention facilities, Frank Baine,the Uganda Prisons Service spokesperson has said that the best option to decongest the prison is by improving the justice system.
In an interview with The Nile Post, Baine said decongesting the prisons will allow resources to be concentrated on improving conditions for those who remain in prison.
Recently, a prominent lawyer Bob Kasango lost his life while in your custody. Does prisons have good medical facilities?
I don’t know which hospital in the world has facilities which make people not to die but we have relatively good facilities, actually above the normal. We have our hospital in Murchison Bay which is our regional hospital. We have the department of health is prisons and that is why we have been able to manage different illnesses including Covid-19.
You know we have had 10,151 case of covid-19 and we have only lost one life and that tells you that we are up to the task. Prisons is not an insurance against death.
Overcrowding in prisons is an entrenched problem and solutions require careful work. What are you doing to decongest prisons?
Our growth rate of the accommodation is 2% but the growth rate of the prisoners per annum is 10%. Doing accommodation alone may not be the long term solution for decongesting the prison but increasing the speed of the justice system maybe the best option to decongest prison because decongesting the prison is not the function of the prison alone.
It is the function of the justice system .How long does the police take to investigate? How long does the DPP take to handle an issue? How long does the court take to give a judgement? So it’s a chain of activities.
In 2019, prisons had high prevalence levels of TB due to overwhelming numbers of prisoners. What is the situation now?
Of course as long as there is congestion, the issue of TB becomes a big challenge but we are managing the situation and we have put laboratory centre in Fort Portal. We have one in Luzira and we also have another one in Mbale and since then we have been doing a lot to ensure that we mitigate the problem of TB in prisons.
Besides TB, what are other common health problems are affecting prisons?
Of course most of those who come to us are not only reckless in terms of stepping on other people’s rights but they are also reckless in their lives.
We also have high prevalence of HIV/AIDS and a good number of people who come with non communicable diseases like cancer and the like.Those ones are not very easy to treat because their drugs are very costly.
Some service providers like those who supply food claim prisons takes long to pay. Is this true?
Well, it is not the prisons paying, it is the government paying. So anyone who decides to work with the government has to be patient with the government procedures.
When you deal with government, it is not like the open market where you go and they give you money and you go home. You have to wait for some time before they can actually get your money because that is the government procedure.
We have seen many repeat offenders. Does prison reform people or it hardens them?
Well,well,well, if you have been reading our report,our reoffending rate is 17% and it’s one of the best records in the world. Some of people that we think are reoffending are on remand. We take them into custody and we don’t rehabilitate them and then they go out. Some when they commit a crime, the community thinks that these people were not well rehabilitated yet actually they were never rehabilitated because you can’t rehabilitate a prisoner on remand.
What are you doing to ensure that when these prisoners are released, they become productive in the community?
Even right now, our prisoners in S4 are doing exams. We are constantly training our people in vocational training. They are subjected to exams and they are performing very well and that’s why every prison you go to, there is some skill of sort in agriculture, carpentry, tailoring.
What are some of the challenges you are facing as prisons?
Our funding is still low because we are operating at 45% of the budget we require to do our work. We still have crucial things to take care of.
The women need special needs ,the elderly need special needs and we have also got those prisoners with mental problems who need special attention. Those are some of the challenges that are hindering the improvement of services in Uganda Prisons.
Lastly, how have you improved the lives of your staff?
We have the most vibrant Sacco’s in this country which is worth Shs 10 billion so we have saved together and loan each other and that is how we are able to survive.
Basically we are depending on the salary like everybody… like other public servants so we are managing within our system.