The problems Prisoners' Families face:here is a story ( as compiled by Petride Mudoola and Published in the Sunday Vision of 14th September 2014) of Asaba Juliet who was who was Robbed and Raped.
On arrival, the children have to undergo the procedural security checks. Fear and anxiety is evident on some of their faces, but reassurance from the guards calms them. At the condemned section, for the prisoners on death row, inmates clad in white shorts and shirts welcome the children. Each of the visitors has prepared a special meal for their incarcerated family member. As the greeting and hugging dies down, each family says a prayer before partaking of their meal. The children enjoy the precious moments shared with their parents. For a while the harsh reality of where they really are is forgotten, until it is time to go. It is an emotional farewell. The parents cling to their children. There are many crying.
Mbirinde went to the prison authorities to explain his plight. The authorities contacted Wells of Hope, a charity organisation, which enrolled Mbirinde’s children in Wells of Hope Academy. He now sees his children three times a year, when they break off for holidays.
Wells of Hope provides accommodation, education, healthcare and scholastic materials to orphans and children of inmates until the parent is released or when the children become adults and can look after themselves. Mbirinde’s 14-year-old daughter, Sauda, says they face a double tragedy, having lost their mother. “Life will never be the same again. None of our parents is there for us,” she laments.
Sauda says they are forced to stay in school during the holidays since they do not have anybody to go home to. Sauda says they are desperate with nowhere to stay. Their house was demolished by angry villagers after their father was accused of murder.
We got a chance to visit Nassimbwa, who explains that she had the baby shortly after the sentencing. Their now two-year-old daughter is under the care of Family of Africa, a Luzira-based daycare centre that looks after prisoners’ children. “My daughter comes to visit me every Sunday. I take advantage of our time together to be the best parent I can be. I prepare a meal for her, do her laundry and then we pray together before she is taken back,” says Nassimbwa.
Bwengise appeals to prison authorities to give him the opportunity to meet his wife and children together. The couple say they appealed against their sentence, but have not received any response.
Paddy Opio, the officer in charge of the condemned section says there are two categories of children facing this dilemma: Those that have both parents incarcerated and serving long sentences and those that have only one parent in jail. Opio observes that both categories face similar challenges when it comes to parenting. “However, children who have both parents incarcerated go through even harder times.”
The United Nations (UN) Convention on the rights of children stipulates that as long as it is in the best interest of the child, the child, who is separated from one or both parents, has the right to maintain personal relations and direct contact with the parents on a regular basis.
Francis Suubi, the executive director of Wells of Hope Ministries, says despite the UN convention, this is not the case in several countries, as it remains a privilege for children to visit their parents in prison, yet it is supposed to be a right. “Little is known about the number of children left behind or what could be done to help them.
Punishment in the criminal justice system has traditionally been focused against the offender, with little regard to its wider effects on the offender’s family,” Suubi points out. Suubi says separating children from their parents has long been of concern to both mental health professionals and courts of law. Suubi observes that, “children of prisoners and their parents face a wrenching separation, yet remain an over looked group in our society.”
“Due to the pain and the torture they go through, there is need for the Government to recognise children whose parents have been incarcerated. Through its criminal justice system, it should pass laws that address their rights,” Suubi proposes. Currently, Wells of Hope Ministries accommodates 108 prisoner’s children between the ages of five and 17. Suubi says they lack adequate funding and would appreciate the Government’s support towards the welfare of prisoners’ children.
No one truly knows a nation, until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but rather its lowest ones.
These are the words of former South African President Nelson Mandela in his book, Long Walk to Freedom.
The situation is not any different in the context of Arua Prison. Inmates retain all rights except those which have to be limited to implement the imposed sentence. For that reason, the Constitution guarantees basic rights to everybody, including those who are incarcerated for having committed or are accused of committing a crime.
Majority were arrested without a warrant of arrest, on the basis of a reasonable suspicion or belief that they had committed an offence. It may well be, of course, that further investigations may unearth sufficient supplementary evidence to sustain a conviction.
In far too many cases, however, no such evidence is produced and prosecutors are compelled to withdraw charges after numerous postponements as a result of which the accused may be detained for months, if not years. Every morning, they are taken to work in the garden outside the prisons, while others are hired to do private work in various areas. They return exhausted. They are given some leisure time inside the confinement. While others do carpentry work and rehearse church songs.
The prison, which was constructed in 1930, was meant to accommodate 100 inmates but now houses more than 600. Conditions at the prison are deplorable. The toilet facilities are appalling. Prisoners sleep on the floor on old papyrus mats covered with blankets. They use their trousers and shirts as pillows. Sleeping is never comfortable as the one papyrus mat accommodates at least five inmates.
Inside the dilapidated accommodation blocks for prisoners, there are several cracks on the walls. In the female wing, parts of the wood used for roofing have started rotting, causing fear that the roof way collapse on inmates.
The inmates are subjected to food rationing and there is a shortage of water. Speaking to the Daily Monitor, a former inmate, who preferred to use his prison number 064, said: “Sometimes the number of beans equals to the number of stones. The food is awful and I rarely ate their food. Those without plates get the food served on their hands but they invade the nurses to get some containers to store the food.” He said the accommodation blocks are infested with lice.
Another inmate, who declined to be named for fear of reprisals, said: “I have been held at this prison for two years now. To get something to eat is very difficult. If the family does not bring us food, we very often sleep on an empty stomach.”
Some of the prisoners also complained of long detention without trial. A woman on remand said: “You do not get privacy. You have to use the bucket for urinating and we are denied access to our husbands.” And when the inmates are being taken to court, they are compelled to walk one kilometre on foot in lines escorted by prison warders.
The regional prisons commander, Mr Patrick Masiga, says: “No one wants to be a prisoner, but what I can say is that some of them are on remand for long. And the justice system should be speedy.”
The region has experienced numerous jailbreaks blamed on long detention without trial, laxity by prison warders, lack of basic facilities and abuse of human rights.
In 2006 shortly after President Museveni was declared winner of the election to pave the way for his third term in office, at least 408 inmates escaped from Arua Prison. Since then, 175 have been recaptured while 233 are still at large. There were 716 prisoners locked up in the correctional facility then. Two weeks ago, three of the 670 inmates escaped. They have not been rearrested.
During a visit to the correctional facility in November 2010, the Commissioner of Prisons, Mr Johnson Byabashaija, said they would ‘soon’ construct two medical wards at the prison’ premises and renovate the existing structures. But no action has been taken to date.
During the African Correction Services Association Conference (ACSA) conference in 2012, the then Minister of Internal Affairs, Mr Hilary Onek, said the government was committed to avail resources to enable Uganda Prisons Service to continue executing its Constitutional mandate of custody of prisoners and rehabilitation of offenders.
In Adjumani District, the dilapidated Olia Prison, which is located seven kilometres from Adjumani Town, has not been renovated for the past 40 years. Constructed in 1966, the structure, which currently has numerous cracks, was recently declared unfit for habitation by the district engineering department.
In April last year after a joint inspection carried out by Adjumani security committee, the engineering department and the district coordinating committee, it was resolved that the facility should be closed.
There are currently 37 inmates at the facility, which is located on the Adjumani-Gulu highway. At least 30 of them are inmates while seven are on remand.
Adjumani Grade One Magistrate Patrick Kitiyo suggested that the inmates, whose lives are at risk, should be transferred to Openzizi Prison. “We should immediately intervene to save the lives of those living in this building because the structure can collapse anytime,” Mr Kitiyo said.
One of the prison warders, who spoke to the Daily Monitor on condition of anonymity because he is not allowed to talked to the press, said the facility does not have a vehicle to transport prisoners to court. “Sometimes good Samaritans normally offer for us a lift up to the road junction of the court because trekking seven kilometres has never been easy,” he said.
In Koboko District, Gbuktu Prison has not received any renovation for more than 30 years. Termites have eaten some of the wooden poles of the mud and wattle houses, posing a danger of possible collapse. Food rationing is the order of the day.
By ALFRED TUMUSHABE & RAJAB MUKOMBOZI
On a sweltering afternoon recently, the Daily Monitor met four prisoners near Uganda Martyrs Church in Mbarara Town escorted by two armed prison warders trekking to Kakiika Prison commonly known as Kyamugorani.
Clad in yellow attire, handcuffed in pairs and walking barefoot, the detainees, who were from Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital for treatment, had just started the 5km journey back having walked the same distance to get medication earlier in the morning.
That was not a peculiar encounter though.
Those who live in Mbarara have often seen prisoners and warders from Kakiika walking to Mbarara court or hospital. Yet they are supposed to be transported in prison vehicles. Prison officials in the southwestern region say lack of transport and overcrowding in prisons are the major challenges.
“The reason you always see these prisoners walking is because of the transport challenge. At times I am forced to use my personal vehicle to transport some of these inmates who are badly off to and from hospitals for treatment,” says Mr Geoffrey Ogwang, the in-charge of Mbarara Main, Mbarara Women, Kakiika, Buhweju, Bushenyi and Isingiro prisons.
People who are on remand at Mbarara Main and the Regional Prisons Commander, Mr Tobias Oca Ebong, who were interviewed for this article, attested to these challenges.
There are six lorries and one pick up truck for 19 prisons hosting 5,118 remands and convicts in Ankole, Kigezi and part of Tooro sub-regions.
These vehicles are supposed to carry staff, inmates, firewood and food. When there are no vehicles, inmates and warders walk like is the case with those in Kakiika we met. It also means delay in getting supplies such as food and other essentials that require a vehicle to carry which affect the welfare of the prisoners.
Prison staff are not enough. The ratio of staff to prisoners should be 1:3 but now at 500 staff in region and 5,000+ prisoners, the ratio is about 1:10. Going by the present number of prisons in the region, they require 1,500 staff if they are to follow the recommended ratio of 1:3.
Though the staff are over stretched there have not been jail breaks in the region recently. The last one happened at Ndorwa prison in Kabale six years ago.
“We don’t have jail breaks or strikes, security is always very tight despite the fact that the staff are few,” says Mr Ebong.
The number of prisoners is four times more than the total capacity of these facilities. Going by the design, there are supposed to be a combined 1,279 prisoners in all these prisons which are spread in 12 districts. Mbarara Main alone, which was built in the 1940s to accommodate 150 prisoners, had 1,297 in mates by Thursday.
“It is not unusual to find that these prisons have dilapidated structures. Most of the structures, for example at Mbarara Main, Kakiika, Ndorwa, Kisoro and Mparo, were built in 1940s,” says Mr Ebong.
However, a new prison has been built in Kiruhura District with a 300-inmate capacity and by press time, it had 222 inmates. New blocks have been built at Mbarara and Bushenyi prisons and will accommodate a few more prisoners.
Congestion leads to diseases to thrive among the inmates all the time. Lack of enough space implies keeping remand prisoners with convicts, hard core criminals with those who have simple cases, youth with men and the sick with those who are not, betraying Uganda Prisons mission which is “to provide safe, secure and humane custody of offenders while placing human rights at the centre of correctional programmes.”
“A remand prisoner is assumed to be innocent. He is entitled to good food and accommodation but right now we can’t separate them (from convicts) because of lack of structures. What we are able to do now is to separate men from women. We also try to separate those with TB and scabies from others,” Mr Ebong says.
Prisoners sleep on top of each other
Mr James Abaho, who was at Mbarara Main on remand for seven months and released in March this year, says congestion is torturing inmates as well as diseases such as TB, cough and scabies.
“People are very many to the extent that at night, you hear others crying because their colleagues have slept on their top or limbs. They are in pain. If you wake up to ease yourself, you lose your space, you can’t fix yourself there again,” he says.
This happens especially when non capital offenders like the idlers, pickpockets and those arrested over affray are brought in. “They come in big numbers and inmates sleep on one side of their bodies throughout the night. Scabies, TB, cough, bed bugs and lice are persistent,” he says.
Feeding and medication are not adequate. At 10am, breakfast of porridge is served. Lunch is served at 1pm or 12.30pm and supper at 4.30pm. But when there is lack of food, which happens due to various reasons, prisoners have two meals a day instead of three, with breakfast of porridge served at 11 am and small ration of posho and beans in the evening.
“They serve you a small piece of posho and beans that can fit on tea spoon, and then you wait until the next day,” he says.
For medication, he says “someone can easily die of malaria, especially the old people. Such ailments are not given a lot of attention. Prisoners rely on the prison clinic inside. But Aids patients get a lot of attention and care. They are always taken to TASO or MJAP in town.”
He says the major challenge is that people stay long on remand.
By Petride Mudoola
The Medical officer in Charge of Luzira Upper prison Clinic Dr Joshua Oluka has advised Government to allocate more funds in the Prison’s health budget in order to reduce HIV/AIDS infections among inmates.
According to the medical personnel, the HIV prevalence among inmates is still high because prisoners are fond of sharing sharp objects yet it’s one of the methods through which HIV is transmitted.
“Prison welfare department routinely provides some of the piercing instruments like razor blades and needles for those who cannot afford. However due to inadequate resources to provide for all the inmates, a number of them are compelled to share such objects,” Oluka noted.
“Despite the programs that prison service provides to sensitize inmates on the effects of sharing sharp objects, they continue to use them which is very dangerous,” he added.
The HIV prevalence among inmates stands at 11.2 and this is twice the national prevalence. In a lock up of 2575 inmates within Upper Prison, 333 inmates are living with HIV/AIDS of which 178 prisoners access antiretroviral therapy Oluka noted.
Oluka said governmnet has put in a lot of effort towards supplying drugs for inmates living with HIV. However since ARVs are strong, the patients are required to have a balanced diet which the prison can’t afford because it requires a special budget.
Positive inmates are given some eggs, vegetables and fruits supplied from prison farms but the supplement is still not enough to cater for the patients on antiretroviral therapy.
Gabriel Mugaga one of the inmates living with HIV told the New Vision, “some of his colleagues fear taking Antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) due to poor nutrition yet it calls for a balanced diet for a patient to take such medication.”
He further explained that inmates are forced to throw away the drugs meant for their treatment after realizing that they cannot swallow the drugs on empty stomachs.
Mugaga was arrested in Bugangaizi Kibaale district and convicted to 13 years on charges of robbery.
“Right now none of my relatives has come to visit me while in jail because they are not aware of my transfer from my home area to Luzira Upper Prison,” he said.
He appealed to government to transfer inmates to their home areas so that they access assistance from their relatives as they serve their sentences.
By Frank Mugabi
THE Principal Judge, Justice James Ogoola, has called for a new law to ensure that women imprisoned with breastfeeding children get special nutritional care.
Ogoola said this would address the welfare of children, who commit no crime but are confined to prison wards because of the current legal system.
“It is a fundamental question that requires Parliament to review. We need a law on how these blameless children fit in crime,” he said, adding that he would start a discussion over the matter.
He noted that the current laws only prohibit the execution of convicted pregnant women, adding that similar treatment, in terms of feeding, should also be extended to women with breastfeeding children.
Ogoola made the remarks while addressing inmates at Arua prison on Friday. One of the mothers said she was finding it difficult to produce enough milk because of the poor and insufficient meals.
The prison in-charge, Patrick Masiga, said there were 597 inmates in custody with six children, who have one meal a day, due to limited resources.
He said the major foodwas posho and beans with green vegetables provided occasionally, adding that the stock of food was getting over yet the suppliers were delaying to deliver more.
In a hurriedly drafted memorandum, the prisoners complained about continued confinement despite clocking the mandatory release period.
According to Masiga, 126 inmates had reached the mandatory release period of 180 days but were in detention for various reasons. He said 32 of them were on capital offences and 94 were on petty crimes.
The inmates complained that missing files, delayed judgement and unclear appeal channels were the reasons why they continued staying in detention.
Ogoola said it was unfortunate that most of the problems cited hinged on human rights and promised to have them eliminated.
“Those who clock mandatory periods should be released. It is everyone’s constitutional right,” he said.
He explained that the files never get lost, instead they are artificially lost by the clerks. He explained.that the delayed judgments were a result of under-staffing, adding that there were only 35 judges to serve the whole country out of the required 80.
He said there were plans to recruit more judges.
They must stay in prison despite their vulnerable age and the fact that they have committed no crime.
This sounds strange but that is the fate of children whose mothers are either on remand or have been convicted and are serving jail terms. Some of these children accompany their mothers or are born in prison.
Therefore, as their mothers serve their sentences or await their trials, so too do their little children, enduring the life of the accused without ever having flouted any law.
Visiting Malukhu Prison in Mbale municipality in late April was eye opening. Eight children were found living with the 35 female inmates at the detention facility.
This scenario is not only in Mbale but in all prisons across the country. Political prisoners who have easy access to the media upon their release have highlighted this. But are children supposed to be in prison? According to Margaret Obonyo, the officer in charge of the female wing at Malukhu Prison, the law permits it to an extent. “Our law of prisons says once a child reaches one year and eight months, it should be taken back home. But some are not able to go home,” Ms Obonyo told members of the Rotary Club of Mbale who visited inmates on April 28.
This is because the children are deemed too young to be separated from their mothers, especially when they are still breast feeding at the time of their mother’s arrest. But regardless of the circumstances, to some mothers staying with their children in prison is the best option available.
“For example that one,” Ms Obonyo said pointing at a child seated on her mother’s lap, “she is now two years and a month. The mother comes from Karamoja region and she tells me her people are on the run because of cattle rustlers. Even the husband came here a month ago and when I informed him of the law, he told me he feels the child is more secure here than outside. So that is really the dilemma we are in.”
In an emotion-filled tone, one of the inmates Grace Namwano, told the visiting rotarians, “As you know prison food is not the best. So, these little ones are suffering,” in reference to the eight children living with their mothers.
Ms Namwano’s lamenting brings into perspective an obvious scientific fact as a Cambodian study of children in prisons indicated that the children face nutritional deficiencies.
“Though children often share the allotted prison food with their mothers, extra food is not distributed to prisoners with dependents. The food provided typically lacks ample nutrients for adults, let alone for growing children. When split among two or three or even more people, the nutritional value is depleted even further,” reads in part the study by the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defence of Human Rights (LICADHO).
That most of the children staying with female inmates are below the age of five, according to the LICADHO study, living in prisons also presents a threat to children’s safety. “The potential for maltreatment at the hands of other prisoners or prison staff is ever-present, particularly in facilities where sex offenders may be held,” the study notes.
“The effects on children’s development are social and psychological as well as physical. Without access to standard education, children are at a disadvantage in terms of intellectual development.”
Ms Obonyo concurs with the LICADHO study observations. “I think some of these children are very disadvantaged because they are already learning certain bad things that they are not supposed to know now. And a young brain growing, once it captures something it will be very difficult for that brain to wipe it off.”
The plight of children in Ugandan prisons is not an isolated affair. The issue has been raised at international level and commitments have been made by the government, promising to improve the situation but this has not happened.
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child on September 15, 2005 reviewed the second periodic report of Uganda on how the country is implementing the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).
One of the questions put to the Ugandan delegation led by then Gender, Labour and Social Development Minister Zoe Bakoko Bakoru was on the figures of babies living with their mothers in detention, and what measures were being taken to redress the plight of the children.
While responding to the experts questions, Ms Bakoko did not answer the question on children living with their mothers in prison. Perhaps this explains why the situation remains unchanged.
However, all that is happening to these children in total contravention of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child. The Convention covers all the rights that aim at the wellbeing of the child. It is worth noting that while parents are mainly accountable for their children’s well-being according to Article 18.1, CRC articles reinforce the State’s duty to ensure adequate care and protection of children in unusual circumstances.