Uganda Prisons Service has said that it has registered a surge in the population of inmates in all its facilities countrywide during the Covid-19 pandemic period.
This has been attributed to the effect of the novel Coronavirus, which the prisons say, affected the operations of the Justice Law and Order Sector (JLOS) whereby prisoners would hardly be processed through the justice system.
“One of the sectors that was worst hit by the emergence of Covid-19 is the JLOS and yet its activities have been very active such as arrests, prosecution and remanding hence swelling the numbers of inmates,” Frank Baine, prisons spokesperson said.
He added, “prisons last November registered a reduction in the number of inmates from 52% to 47%. Unfortunately, as we’re talking, the remand population has gone back to 53% and therefore the convict population has gone to 47%.”
According to Baine, the effect of this pandemic was partly the response that the different leaders in the JLOS gave such as the guidelines from the chief justice, IGP, Commissioner General of prisons, DPP, Uganda Human Rights Commission among others and in every case. These responses have had an effect on the population in the prisons.
Reports indicate that the number of prisoners that had dropped to 57000 is back to 63023 inmates of which 32728 are still undergoing trial.
In aspects of justice, prisons say that they are not doing very well.
However, last week the Acting chief justice Alfonse Owinyi Dolo issued guidelines on how JLOS can conduct its business and ensure that prisoners access justice which will help to reduce the number in prisons.
In the guidelines, all courts and stakeholders such as justices, Police, advocates, probation officers must agree on how to operate and since then several meetings have been held in that effect.
From the outcomes, it was agreed that where a session involves many prisoners, the pre-taking, handing and fixing dates of hearing cases will be done in the prison facilities to avoid inmates from coming out in large numbers which may risk their lives.
Where existence of audio visual facilities are at court, it was resolved that such sittings must be done via video conferencing.
Baine also said that prisons are not yet ready to allow visitors except those that are going to facilitate inmates to access justice like lawyers.
“All court sessions remain closed to the public with the exception of witnesses, complainants and other essential actors,” he said
Meanwhile, High Court sessions countrywide have resumed. In Mbale court is having a session of 40 prisoners while court of appeal is handling 24 cases.
In Kampala, court of appeal is having 28 prisoners while in Mbarara 40 prisoners appeared on Monday.
Baine described this is as a very big ray of hope that the amendment of the previous guidelines is hoped to help prisons to go a long way to see that justice is dispensed at its time.
“So for those who have lawyers and want to consult legal services, please, this is the time to start moving and we expect many other sessions especially high court sessions to be conducted within the shortest coming time,” he said.
However, prisons service notes that they are continuing with isolation centres. Lugazi is admitting prisoners and those who were there have been taken to Nyenga, Bugungu, Nakifuma and capital offenders are in kitalya.
Some prisoners have been moved back from kitalya, some few capital offenders are for to be arraigned in court and 33 prisoners have been taken to Kibale.