KAMPALA – The management of Uganda Prisons Services has recommended to the Attorney General, William Byaruhanga to release about 2000 prisoners, in a move aimed at decongesting the prisons and improve the fight against the spread of Coronavirus within the detention facilities.
This was revealed by Commissioner General, Uganda Prisons Services, Johnson Byabashaija while speaking to journalists at Parliament, after being vetted by the for his second term on Monday, April 6.
Byabashaija said that both prisoners and prison officials are scared of Coronavirus, which has prompted to cut off contact with the rest of the world by banning visits, admitting new prisoners as well as isolating prisons warders from their families.
He said that the new prisoners are being isolated from the old ones by sending them to the new prison facility.
“Our main effort is to make sure the virus doesn’t enter prisons because it is only us who work there who can introduce it or the new prisoners. But we have made sure that the new prisoners don’t go into our prison,” he said.
The Commissioner General also revealed that all staff who work directly with prisoners have camped at the prisons and aren’t allowed to leave he premises so they don’t bring the virus to the prisoners.
On decongesting, Byabashaija said, “We have selected 1000-2000 prisoners whom we think have completed three quarters of their sentences and aren’t charged of capital offences. The breastfeeding mothers who have served half of their sentences and aren’t capital offenders. We also selected prisoners who are above 65years and have served their sentences. We are going to submit the list to the Attorney General for consideration for pardon.”
Byabashaija’s comments come at the time a group of Human Rights activists had called for release of some prisoners and improvement of medical services in prisons across the country, in order to control the spread of the virus within the detention facilities.
In a joint statement issued by: Advocats Sans Frontie`res, Chapter Four, Legal Aid Service Providers Network, Muslim Centre for Justice and Law and National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders, the team argued that the threat of spread of COVID-19 and low staffing levels within Uganda’s Prisons and congestion is likely to cause tension among inmates, who might end up staging fatal riots.
The activists argued that although Uganda Prisons Services has halted visits to prisoners from members of the public, it does not in anyway address the issue of crowding within the Prisons. As of September 2018, the occupancy rate within Uganda Prisons stood at 315.4%
The activists made a number of proposals include: release of detainees nearing end of their sentence, detainees charged with petty crimes, as well as those in the age group at the risk or with pre-existing health conditions and whose detention is nolonger justified.
Release unlawfully detained prisoners including those detained beyond 48 hours and those who have clicked mandatory bail.
In dialogue with judicial and administrative actors, take steps to suspend use of pre-trial detention of police custody as well as release without bail, detainees prosecuted for minor offences that are punishable by setences of less than two years imprisonment.
In consultation with competent judicial authorities, grant conditional release to convicted prisoners who comply with procedural conditions.
Implement alternatives for prisoners to contact their relatives such as communication at a distance, behind a glass or by video conferencing.
Tighten the monitoring of the sterilisation of the Prisons Units and increase the capacity for diagnosis and medical monitoring within prisons as requested by WHO.
Byabashaija also told journalists that Uganda Prisons Services had written to Registrar of Courts to release some Prisoners on demand but said the process is undergoing immense scrutiny to make sure that wrong people aren’t released to the public.
“We are also writing to Registrar courts of Judicature to release demands who have reached their mandatory period but aren’t capital offenders to be released on court bond,” he said.