Prisons baffled by rise in inmate numbers despite drop in crime rate

Prisons baffled by rise in inmate numbers despite drop in crime rate
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Uganda Prison authorities have raised concern over the rise in the number of inmates despite the drop in the crime rate.

The latest Annual police crime rate released last week indicated that crime had dropped by 1.5% from 231,653 in 2022 to 228074 in 2023.

Speaking during a high-level reflection meeting on crime trends  organized by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) at Golf Course Hotel, Kampala on Tuesday, the deputy Commissioner General of Prisons, Samuel Akena said the drop in crime rate doesn’t resonate with the numbers registered in prisons across the country.

“Whereas crime rate has reduced, the prisoner incarceration rate has continued to go up. If crime rate is going down why is our population is going up?  The number of prisoners admitted directly from court has increased by 13.8% but also our daily number of prisoners has gone up,” Akena said.

He said that as of Monday, prisons across the country had 76626 prisoners, 40568 of which are convicts, making it 52.9% of the total number of inmates, whereas 32555 are still on remand 503 are judgment debtors.

He said this trend has seen the occupancy rate go up to 365% where space meant for one person is occupied by four.

Contradiction?

The deputy Commissioner General however said this trend is not a contradiction from what police reported in its annual crime rate.

“We are not contradicting police. When the police report, for example murder of one person it is one case file but you might have 20 suspects charged. This is what we mean that the crime rate could have gone down but the number of inmates we receive continues to go up,” Akena said.

He gave an example of the 2016 case where Omusinga Charles Wesley Mumbere was charged together with over 150 of his royal guards, noting that whereas it was one case reported at police, it had over 150 suspects who were later sent to prison.

“The change in crime rate may not therefore necessarily move in same direction with prison population. This state of affairs therefore has a serious effect on us as prisons in terms of feeding, housing, sanitation, medical care, uniforms, delivery of prisoners to court.”

He said this state of affairs means even the prison staff is constrained since they are not enough to handle the increasing number of inmates.

The numbers

(Zambia) is the head of Office for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Uganda, Sharon Lesa Nyambe said it makes no sense celebrating the reduction in crime rates but rather needs to interrogate the numbers.

“The face of crime has poverty littered all over it. If you look at theft which has increased, these are cases predominantly driven by social economic factors in the country,” Nyambe said.

She explained that behind some of these numbers are organized syndicates carrying out transnational crime.

“We therefore need to support countries address organized crime and transnational crime because we see criminal cartels being able to surpass jurisdictions and this comes to the detriment of law enforcement agencies in those countries.”

“Increasingly we are seeing a nexus between organized crime and terrorism through human trafficking, drug trafficking, small arms trafficking, wildlife crimes, economic crimes and illicit financial flows.”

She said it is high time criminal justice systems are prepared to handle these cases by building capacity to investigate, adjudicate and provide legal aid assistance to those in conflict with the law.

“We encourage government to undertake threat assessment to know the profile of organized crime in Uganda,  how porous borders relate to this crime among other issues.”

The head of the Judiciary’s Criminal Division, Justice Michael Elubu said the annual crime report is not just mere figures but has large implications.

“I think we need to look at numbers in terms of what they mean and  deploy resource to management of these cases. For example, thefts alone show 65000 cases and if these cases were to come to courts, they would be handled by magistrates yet we currently have only 377 magistrates. If they are to handle these cases, how long would it take the magistrates,” Justice Elubu reasoned.

We should look at those numbers from that perspective. Robberies

“If robbery cases were to be taken to court, the would be handled by judges yet the High Court has only 82 judges. How long would it take if we deployed all the judges to handle only robbery cases? We therefore need to look at these numbers from that perspective. It should be these numbers to inform the decisions we make.”

Speaking during the function, the Inspector General of Police, John Martins Okoth Ochola who was represented by AIGP James Ochaya, the director research and planning said the positive outlook of the crime rate, there is need to have a deliberate action to capacitate and resource the Criminal Investigations Division to over come a number of challenges.

“There is need for more resources to cover the cost of investigations especially capital offences which require an average of shs 15 million but to also deal with poor records and exhibit management which compromises the quality of investigations,” Ochola said.

He also called for dealing with the skills capacity gap and high detective case load which is currently at 39 cases files for each detective against the recommended ratio of 1:12.

 

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