By Patrick Okino
The existing prison capacity for northern Uganda is 2,407 but the population has drastically shot up to 6,664 in two years.
Unnecessary extension of cases, common land disputes; defilement, domestic violence, robbery, murder and assault in the community have been identified by authorities as some of the major causes of overcrowding in prisons.
African Prison Project last week launched a promotion of the rights of access to justice and healthcare of prisoners in Apac and Oyam districts.
Lira Prison, a facility that was constructed in 1943 with a capacity to house only 200 prisoners, now has 627 inmates.
“There are many inmates in the facility. You find a ward meant for 50 prisoners is accommodating 100. What should be done to rescue the situation is to expand the prison and relocate it outside town,” said a prison warder at Lira prison.
Capital offenses like defilement and robbery are the common cases in most of the prisons, according to officials. Other capital cases are murder and rape which are triable by a judge yet judges are few in the country.
“People incarcerated for capital cases spend a lot of time in prison. Because when you are given a committal warrant to wait for High Court, you can spend like five years,” the warder said.
Two years ago, David Wangustusi of the Judicial Studies Institute in Uganda said too many land disputes in northern Uganda which were not resolved within the shortest time possible because of shortage of judicial officers was behind the congestion in prisons.
Absenteeism of lawyers has also forced some cases to delay for a period of over four years, and lack of trust in state administration is also another factor.
“The problem persists because LCs do not have the mechanism to execute their orders. That is why cases are referred to higher courts,” says Muhamedi Kaskeya, Lira`s chief magistrate.
He suggests that to sort out land matters, LCs needed to be sensitised on how to handle and settle land issues, the law governing land; and courts and administration of justice to help scale out the number people locked away in prison.