Big interview: Frank Baine, the man who wanted to be a priest but became a prison warder

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The population of prisoners in the country has reached 75,000, while the budget for the Prisons Service has declined.

In an interview with the Nile Post, Frank Baine, spokesperson for the Uganda Prisons Service, shared various insights, including personal details about his life.

Baine emphasised the need for prompt action, as enforcing discipline and ethical conduct among inmates has become challenging.

Excerpts below

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Who is Frank Baine and what are his responsibilities?

Frank Baine is a 58 old man hailing from Isingiro district, originally Mbarara. Married with children and has served this country in different capacities. For seven years I was a teacher by profession and for 27 years have worked with Uganda Prisons Service. I have grown in ranks from cadet, assistant superintendent, superintendent, senior superintendent, assistant commissioner, now senior commissioner in charge of corporate affairs at prison headquarters and at the same time, the prisons spokesperson for now 16 years.

How has your recent promotion as Senior Commissioner impacted your career goals?

You know, promotion is a recognition of performance and in this office alone I have now been promoted for four times because when I entered the office, my rank was very far below the office. So I had put on shoes too big my size but I have been growing and now I am fitting in my shoes.

Being the senior Commissioner and now deputy director Corporate Affairs puts me at a very senior level. I am now part of the top management of Uganda prisons.

Were you close to either any of your parents and why that parent?

In the earliest stages, I was close to both my parents but around 15 years, we had some family issues that came up when polygamy came up, there was no choice but to get more inclined to my mother, who has remained my friend up to now. Unfortunately, my father passed away about 14 years ago. My mother has been my friend all through.

Which schools did you attend and in what ways did they shape your professional path?

I basically attended rural schools. My first school was Kakoma Church School and Kakoma Primary School. They are all in Insingiro. I studied in Nyamitanga briefly for two years by then St Hellen was admitting boys and girls. I studied there two years, then I went back to Kakoma and that is where I finished in 1980. Then I went to Isingiro secondary school. My A level I finished it in St Joseph Vocational School.

From there, I came and I did a diploma in secondary education at Nkozi NTC and from there I went to Makerere University. I did a Bachelor of Arts, Social Sciences. From there that is how I joined Uganda Prisons. I upgraded and I got a postgraduate diploma in public administration and management and also a Master’s in Management Science from Uganda Management Institute.

What compelled you to leave teaching and join the prison system?

It is a long story. As a young man, I wanted to become a priest because I thought the priests were the smartest at the time. They were the ones driving good cars. I always (thought) that the priests had a lot of power, they talk and talk and then others just listen. So, that one profession I think I had in my mind because I am an extrovert.

When I didn't make it because of the family issue, I could not become a seminarian because of family issues. That is when now eventually I went for these other academic things. You know, teaching has not been a popular profession. It is a good profession but it had challenges such as poor payments among others. Then, when I was finishing the university that is when I saw an advert in the newspapers calling people to join Uganda Prisons.

I also thought that holding a gun was not a problem. So, the advert itself was so nice, it was a powerful advert and so attractive. So, that is how I ended up in prisons.

What principles do you consider crucial in your role as Public Relations Officer?

The truth is that I have never been in a public relations class or journalism class. So, I am in this office by deployment. When I came in 2008, the first thing was to buy books. I bought a book called contemporary public relations. There were about three books which I read. I read them cover to cover. By the time I was done with them, I had actually understood what I need to do and because I was from the field.

I had been a cadet on duty, I had been second in command, I had been officer in charge, I had been in a prison farm, reception center, a poultry farm in Kigo. I was in Kotido in the reception center, so I had amassed enough experience on what happens in prisons.

And that is what I based on but also when I came here I read the constitution especially the areas connected to my work. Then, there is also what we called prison standing order. Basically that is how I have done my public relations.

What personal values do you uphold and never compromise on?

I must know that I am serving government. So, for whatever I have to do, I have to defend the government, I am serving.

I must try to be open because the office I run is an open office for the people, it is a reception office, it is a front office. You cannot run a front office unless you preferably accept to talk to anybody whether they are abusive, whether they are crying you must open this door. I receive calls 24 hours.

So, I have the principle of openness. Another thing is simplicity, when I am communicating I don’t use hard jargons. Another issue is avoid being judgmental in situations. When the problem has happened in the field, I don't rush to judge. I first have to analyze the circumstance.

What hobbies and passions do you pursue outside of work?

I love farming and I am a farmer. I love farming both animal and crop husbandry. I like reading that is why you see my office is littered with books and I read them. I am a good debater. I like picking on topics and debating, but I don't debate persons. I like issues. Reading is very important for me. I like it and of course, I also do public speaking. I also love wrestling because wrestling is the best game to me.

What is your most cherished possession and why?

My family because there is nothing that can substitute my family. For 23 years now I have been married. Sometimes I reach home midnight, so my wife has been there for 23 years which is not something small. I work tirelessly for my children. So, I thank God for my children. I wouldn't trade my family for anything.

What is the best advice you have ever received and how has it influenced your life?

Three people have repeated that. My late uncle Emmanuel Byaruhanga used to tell me that everybody can succeed but to succeed you need three things which includes hard work, discipline, and patience. He didn’t lie.

My current Commissioner General told me one thing that ‘Please, when you are doing work, hurry but don’t remain static. Give it your best shot.

My mother, she told me that, “When you are humane then your humanity attracts people to you and when people come to you, they bring you things in form of wealth but to become a wealthy person, you must first be humane."

What advice would you give to young people today?

I would tell the young people that in this world those who have died, those who are old, have been young. So, being young is not a discovery. Some people have been young and the young age is the one which works for all the ages whether be it an education, whether hard working or discipline.

What you do as a young person is what you benefit from as an old person. If others are going to school and you refuse to go to school, it means if you ever want to study you will go to school when you are very old. And yet, you would have missed many opportunities than if you had studied young.

When you are disciplined chances are that even in your life, you will live a disciplined life. The moment you taint your name, recovering it becomes so hard. Young people should learn from the old people to avoid making mistakes.

What are the major challenges you encounter in managing prisons in Uganda?

First and foremost, our infrastructure does not match with the numbers we have because our capacity now is 20,000 and we have 75,000 inmates and yet we would be keeping 20,000. So, where there is supposed to be one person, it means you will have four now. Everybody is stretched.

If this office is made for two people, and you have 10 people, then you know the confusion you have. Because of that congestion that is where most of the mistakes come through. The struggle to maintain a discipline, issue of rehabilitation, that becomes an issue.

What strategies are you implementing to overcome these challenges?

Of course overcrowding in prisons is not our problem. Because for us we receive from court. I normally give an analogy that the lake cannot decide how much amount of water comes into it. It is the rivers which carry the water to the lake. As long as the rivers are full, then naturally the lake will be full. When the rivers reduced then the lake will be half full. Unless the chain of justice moves fast, we are still in trouble with congestion but we are engaging stakeholders because it's our responsibility.

How can the government assist in addressing the issues you have highlighted?

Of course, we are operating at 45% of what we require as a budget. I think this time including farming they gave us Shs 480 billion. But farming and industry take two thirds of that budget. So if we have a simple Shs 1 trillion, it would do much for us but we understand. The laws need to be modified to time and again. For example, as I told you why should court tell a person who is seeking justice to wait until it is convenient.

What is the main contributing factor to the spread of HIV in prisons across the country?

It was found out that the prevalence of HIV in prisons is higher than in the community. While in the community the average was at 6.5%, (In prisons) the men were at 11% and the women was at 13%. I must tell you 65% of the total number of prisoners are in prisons because of defilement. Defilement is having sex with a minor who is below 18 years of age. Do you think these people who go for the defilement go with condoms? Because the biggest vehicle that transports HIV is sex and 65% of 75,000 are on sex offenses. Actually if you add rape and the other ones, it goes to about 70%. So, does it surprise you that we have more people who have HIV in the prisons than outside?

So, why in prisons, the number of HIV cases are high, one we put free entry test. Actually the majority come when they don't know that they have HIV. It is when we screen them and tell them that they have. There are those who know they have it, but they keep quiet. So, homosexuality is one of the most significant things that happen in prison and that is why if homosexuality was the biggest promoter, then the men would have more HIV than women.

But the women, prevalence is 13% yet for the men, it is 11%. So, it cannot be homosexuality. It is these other factors. The reckless character they live while outside expose them to the disease.

Why did MPs Allan Ssewanyana and Muhammad Ssegirinya raise concerns about poor feeding during their time in prison?

It is because of congestion. For example, Kigo where they were, when I was there in 2000 we had 500 inmates. In that same prison now, there are 2150 inmates. Do you think they are sleeping as comfortable as when I was there? I keep telling you people, congestion, don't look at prisons only.

As long as we have a population growing very fast and our facilities not expanding at the same rate because like for infrastructure development expands at 3% per annum. The prison population expands at 10% per annum. So, I can assure you that when we were entering the period of Covid-19, we had 49,000 inmates now we have 75,000. But do you think it has been possible in these three years that we have put up infrastructure to accommodate 30,000 inmates? It's not possible.

How many inmates do you receive per week or day?

Average per day, we receive 1,400 prisoners and we discharge about 800 per day. This means the population has to continued going up. As long as you are receiving more than you are releasing unless we get other means to balance the inflow and out flow.

Some inmates allege mistreatment and torture while in the prison system. How does the prison address these concerns?

It is only in Uganda where we don’t have prisons riot. Almost worldwide, there are constant prison riots except in Uganda. In Uganda, we do what we call dynamic security. We don’t use force. It is only in Uganda here where you can walk to a maximum security prison and you are not escorted by people with guns. For us, guns don’t enter the prisons.

There is Anti-Torture Act. When you torture it is no longer a prison thing, it is national matter. We have over 10 staff who have been accused by inmates for torture and they are behind bars. If you torture, you answer to it.

Of course, when we are recruiting people, we don't check their hearts. We check academic performance and the physical fitness. Those torturing (the prisoners) are suffering from what we call displacement anger. They were mistreated somewhere and now is manifesting in what they do. The good thing is that when we are training you, we tell you. If you torture, it is a personal issue. Last time I saw Eddie Mutwe who said his clothes were removed, but that is what the standing order says.

How does the prison system collaborate with human rights groups and NGOs to safeguard prisoners' rights?

They are advocacy partners. Their function is not to run prisons. But we run an open door policy. Anybody who has something to do with us can request formally and we allow them to come and visit. Some of these are religious groups. So, we are partnering with whoever has relevance but the function of managing prisons remains the function of government and Uganda Prisons Service. We also have stakeholders, the lawyers who access the intimates, the police can access inmates especially those who are on remand. We also help the courts in review of sentences.

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