MASAKA —Representatives of different Justice, Law and Order Sector institutions have called for the need for mass sensitization on Plea Bargaining, a quick access to justice initiative where accused persons plead guilty in exchange for a lenient sentence.
The call was made during a Plea Bargain sensitization exercise at Masaka Main Prison early this week.
Speaking on behalf of the Masaka District Leadership, Denis Paul Kabugo, the Assistant Chief Administrative Officer, said it was important that the Justice Law and Order Sector sensitises local leaders as well as other criminal justice actors on the immense benefits of plea bargaining.
The Officer in Charge of Masaka Main Prison, Deogratius Ogwapit, said they are thankful for the two Plea Bargain sessions that have been held this year but added that there was need for more sensitization on the initiative if it it is to appeal to accused persons.
“…Plea bargaining sessions have been running but inmates generally have a negative attitude about it.”
The prison has 1141 prisoners and of these only 230 are convicts.
According to Mr Ogwapit, out of the 911 remand prisoners,596 have been committed to High Court and awaiting trial.
The OC noted that at least 260 inmates have expressed willingness to plea bargaining at the facility.
The Regional Prisons Commander, Christopher Okware, said the biggest challenge the prisons face is over stay on remand.
On his part, Ronald Bogere the Regional CID Officer commended the programme as the only access to justice initiative where the accused person person participates in the sentencing process.
The call for adequate sensitization was re-echoed by inmates who said what is covered during sensitization drives is different from what happens during negotiations. They accused defense counsel of not spending adequate time with accused persons.
The inmates called for sensitization of the communities and victims so that when they are eventually reintegrated in communities they are received well.
Justice Jane Abodo of the Criminal Division who represented the Principal Judge explained that Plea Bargaining had been adopted as one of the measures to curb case backlog.
She said unlike normal court processes that emphasize first in first out policy, plea bargaining enrolls whoever is interested both petty and capital offenders.
She however cautioned inmates not to enroll on the programme ill advised. She took the inmates through the procedure works and how to enroll.
Justice Abodo and the other Senior Judicial Officers answered questions posed by the inmates on Plea Bargaining.
The sensitization was concluded with the outgoing Director of Public Prosecution, Justice Mike Chibita, said the ratio of remand prisoners to convicts was unhealthy and needed reversing.
At the same event, outgoing Masaka Resident Judge, Dr Winifred Nabisinde introduced Justice Victoria Nakintu Nkwanga Katamba, one of the two incoming Masaka resident judges, to the stakeholders and urged them to support her.
Notably present at the sensitization were Judiciary Technical Advisor, Mr Andrew Khaukha, Masaka Deputy Registrar – Cissy Mudhasi, Chief Magistrate Deo Sejjemba, Senior Communications Officer, Mr Solomon Muyita and other Judicial Officers from the Masaka Magisterial area.