Unclogging the “pipe” to Prisons

unclogging-the-pipe-to-prisonsTens of thousands of inmates in Uganda spend their nights standing in jail cells. There is simply not enough space for them to lie down.

The situation is dire, so much so that Uganda is ninth among the top 10 countries with most overcrowded prisons in the world, according to a report by the International Centre for Prison Studies. The country has 247 jails, meant to accommodate about 16,000 people but currently are cramming over 45,000 inmates. This also increases the risk of disease outbreak, prisoners escaping from jails and strikes.

This is why Independent Development Fund (IDF) an institution that has supported over 144 Civil Society Organisations in human rights and good governance in Uganda is working towards providing a solution to the problem of over – crowding.  The three supported projects in 4 districts in Uganda have led to over 1056 inmates receiving bail in the last financial year leading to the reduction in prison congestion by 40% in the prisons where they have been working. IDF partners have expressed ways on how they have made this possible

Reverend Geoffrey Kyomuhendo, Executive Director Child Concern Initiative (CCIO) mentions of how mediation has played a great role in decongesting Bubukwanga prison in Budibugyo where the IDF funded project is being implemented. He says that in his interactions with inmates in Bubukwanga prison, he discovered that some cases are a result of minor offences such as family conflicts. These conflicts he said, can be mediated and in the end have people released from prison. “There is proof that this can happen. Between 2015 and 2016, a total of 677 inmates had their cases mediated upon by CCIO and as a result they were successfully released from Bubukwanga prison” Said Rev. Kyomuhendo

IDF is also supporting African Prisons Project (APP) in Oyam and APac who are training prisoners and prison staff in legal aid, human rights, health, and how to cope with life after prison. This has greatly changed the life of inmates since they can now get on spot support from the trained staff and inmates

Eric Ogwang a 22-year-old student of civil engineering in electrics at Kyambogo University missed school for over a year because he was arrested over a simple misunderstanding in his family. With the support of our partner African Prisons project, Ogwang was guided by the trained Prison staff and within two months he was out of prison. Now, he wants to give back. “I hope to work with APP in order to continue their work in the prisons,” Ogwang says.

Left: Posters being disseminated on bail procedures in Mutukura village Right: Eric Ogwanga, being congratulated by the prisons officer after his release
Left: Posters being disseminated on bail procedures in Mutukura village
Right: Eric Ogwanga, being congratulated by the prisons officer after his release

IDF interventions have contributed to the recommendations to stakeholders from the Special Rapporteur empowered to examine the situation of persons deprived of their liberty within the territories of States Parties to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights resolution 37 adopted by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights under the following areas;

Overcrowding: IDF interventions have implemented a recommendation to give bail to those with minor cases. The report identified that the solution to overcrowding is not to build more prisons, but to reform the system towards more efficiency in the police and courts in as far as handling of cases is concerned. Therefore the Human rights Advocates comprising of prison staff and Prisoners trained by APP to constantly support prisoners to access bail on a day to day basis is one of the innovative ways to reform the justice system and decongest the prisons.  The Special Rapporteur recommends that the initiatives that have already been taken to reduce congestion be developed and implemented throughout the country and as such, APP has documented these good practices and shared with Uganda Prison service who are now willing to roll it out to the rest of the country.  This has also contributed to another recommendation of enhancing legal assistance and representation at hearings and the need for Uganda to develop paralegal systems to sensitise inmates on their rights and represent them to court. Some of the trained prison staff have also worked to engage the judicial system to provide bail for some of the prisoners. “You see after this training, my eyes were opened and I was able to use the knowledge I obtained to demand for the release of 14 prisoners on bail on the 15th/10/2015” said the Prison OC station Bubukwanga Prison

Our supported interventions have also contributed to improved hygiene and accommodation. Inmates are provided with some bedding, soap, detergent and cleaning material. This has been effective in our intervention where the trained Prison based Village Health Teams (PVHT) health volunteers have been able to detect infectious diseases and send the prisoners for treatment. Over 789 inmates have been treated of infections in 3 prisons in Uganda. Inmates have also been advised to test and those found with HIV have been put on drugs. One of the incharge officers in Apac prison testified to the success of IDF supported project, “This project is one of the few that have really benefited the prisons as a whole. The results are out there for all to see with the change of hygiene in this prison!”   Said Mr. Odur Smith, Officer in Charge, Apac Prison

Prisoners in Oyam prison being sensitized on health and hygiene by the trained PVHTs
Prisoners in Oyam prison being sensitized on health and hygiene by the trained PVHTs