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Prisoners  demand Hepatitis B vaccination, National IDs, petition PJ Bamwine

PJ Yorokam Bamwine speaking to inmates at Mbarara main prison on Monday. (Photo by Bob Aine)

MBARARA– Inmates at Kakika Kyamugorani and Mbarara main prisons have petitioned the Principal Judge Yorokam Bamwine demanding for massive vaccination against Hepatitis B and registration for National Identity Cards.

In their joint memorandum that was presented by Kasim Byaruhanga for Mbarara main and  James Osiber for Kakika prison, Kyamugorani highlighted various concerns among which was failure to be vaccinated against Hepatitis B by the government.

PJ Bamwine visited the two prisons on Monday to check how the Plea-bargain process is being done which was initiated with an aim of ensuring that prisons get decongested.

“We hear people are being vaccinated in various health units against Hepatitis B but prisoners have not benefitted from this, we pray that the government considers that because we are also Ugandans who want to have a healthy life despite of the fact that we are prisoners” The petition reads in part.

They argue that due to congestion in the prisons they are scared of their health conditions since they share beddings. ‘some prisoners come here in good health but by the time they leave they go with various diseases including TB, so for starters, we pray that the government gives us the Hepatitis B vaccine which is one of the most killers diseases in Uganda.”

Before adding, “we should also be provided with national identity cards because we don’t want when we leave this prison be arrested again, we are still useful to this country, some of us have our academic papers we would want to go and do businesses but you cannot transact any serious business without a national Identity card.

Inmates commended the good idea that was behind Plea-Bargain process, however, expressed their dismay on how it is being administered by high court judges. They say that most inmates who have decided to join the Plea-bargain have been frustrated.

Plea-Bargaining is an arrangement between prosecutor and defendant through their lawyers whereby the defendant pleads guilty to a lesser charge in exchange for a more lenient sentence or an agreement to drop other charges

“You seat with your lawyer, complainants and state prosecutors agree on the sentence after accepting the offence, when one reaches in court, the judges tend to add some years to what you agreed upon in the process, this has in one way discouraged inmates to participate in the process. We have some people here who have been on remand beyond the mandatory time of six months, some have been on remand for more than two years, others have tried to join the process but have failed due to lack of indictment letters which has increase congestion in prison.” the petition reads.

It adds, “We have capital offenders who have overstayed on remand without being committed to high court, some have signed the Plea-Bargain agreements but have not been called to appear in court,  we call upon your intervention.

On congestion, Mbarara main prison was designed have only 301 inmates but apparently, it has 1732 inmates of which 928 are committals and 540 convicts. That since the inception of Plea-Bargain they have managed to handle 720 cases. Inmates say that they now sleep in shifts at night.

They faulted police in framing charges against them without carrying out proper investigations. “some of us here are innocent but due to unprofessionalism within police we find ourselves here, we have inmates here whose properties which had been impounded and packed at Police we were shocked when we had that they have been advertised for public auctioning despite the fact that they sent their relatives to get their cars from police with all documents but their efforts hit a dead rock, we call upon your intervention

PJ Bamwine interacting with prison officers led by RPC Frank Byamugisha. (Photo by Bob Aine)

Carolyne Akoth the new Rwizi Region Police Commander asked those with complaints concerning their missing properties from police custody to file their complaints so that she can make a follow and deal with those who could have sold those items.

PJ Bamwine while responding to the inmates’ memorandum warned judges and lawyers not to frustrate the good idea which was initiated with an aim of ensuring prisons are decongested without suffocating justice.

He noted that it would be wrong if any judge sentenced a person not according to the time agreed upon in the Plea Bargaining process saying that a person should be sentenced according to the punishment agreed upon by all parties and that this if it keeps like that has the potential to frustrate the process. He, however, noted that this applies only to people who know they committed the offences.

Inmates who overstay on remand, Bamwine opined that he has already written to the all resident judges, all chief magistrates to always go to prison regularly. “No one should be on remand for more than six months if it’s a capital offence and civil cases not more than 2months, its unacceptable and unconstitutional, if there is evidence commit, if the evidence is insufficient please release the person on bail.”

On sale of prisoners properties by police, he said police should refrain themselves from impounding properties which are not going to be used as exhibits in court. “We have heard this several times, properties are taken without being recorded in any of the police records and in the end they sell them but we shall put it to concerned offices”

On the national IDs he said it’s a national policy which the state can come up with a decision but it has not yet come up yet they are entitled to IDs according to him. “I think this is something the government can work on”

On Hepatitis B vaccination and National IDs, Bamwine noted it with concern that inmates should be vaccinated against Hepatitis B. “This is a health issue, they should be vaccinated, I don’t think the government is against it,  it is because  it has not been proposed so we are going to take it up under JLOS”

Bamwine is on a visit to all the prisons in Ankole to check on the effectiveness of plea bargaining as far as decongesting prisons is concerned.

 

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