By Petride Mudoola
There is always a furor whenever a massive release of prisoners takes place. The situation is not helped by police reports, which have always attributed such releases to certain crime patterns.
Indeed a few of the ex-convicts have been re-arrested. However, a report by the African Journal of Criminology and Justice indicates that Uganda has the best prisons rehabilitation programmes in Africa and ranks fourth globally, going by the re-offender rate.
Re-offending (recidivism) refers to the number of times the same person is jailed in a year.
Netherlands tops the world as the place with the least criminals and plans to close its detention facilities because there are no criminals there currently. Switzerland ranks second with recidivism of 22% followed by Norway 30% and Uganda 32%.
This implies that in Uganda, out of every 100 inmates released, only 32 would be back in prison within a year. In Africa, Uganda is followed by Zambia 33%, Rwanda 36% and Kenya and Tanzania 47%.
As at December 2013, the report showed the US as the country with the worst crime record in the world with recidivism 90%. It was followed by South Africa, Germany and Asia tying at 74%.
While the excruciating, agonising and distressing experience first-time offenders go through behind bars could be contributing to Uganda’s low recidivism, Dr. Johnson Byabashaija, the Commissioner General of Prisons, says their rehabilitation success was on the realisation that prisons service during the colonial time was premised on wrong philosophy.
“The prison system was not designed for correction, but punishment. Therefore, procedures do not encourage offender correction, yet there has to be more to prison than punishment,” he says.
Inmates of the engineering and construction section take part in the construction of the Prison staff low-cost houses at Luzira Maximum Security Prison. PHOTO/Petride Mudoola
Besides counselling services, Byabashaija says their rehabilitation strategy includes allowing the convicts to enroll for formal education and equipping them with skills to enable them be self-sustaining outside prison.
The prisons chief notes that rehabilitation is the only way to minimize re-offending.
“Society will be safer with a system that excels as a correctional organisation. This calls for critical reforms in the current prison systems to influence transformation of prison services to correctional centres.”
Ladislaus Rwakafuuzi, the human rights and constitutional lawyer, says: “Despite the meager salaries, warders handle prisoners humanely, the reason cases of torture within Uganda’s detention facilities are rare.”
Prisoners undergo peace and conflict resolution since most of them are first-time offenders. These programmes enable them to reconcile with the people they offended, hence reducing crime, he adds.
Frank Baine, the Prisons publicist, says although Prisons lack a specific budget to facilitate rehabilitation programmes in all their 244 detention facilities, they had done their best with the limited resources.
Formal education in prison helps prisoners become productive individuals after serving their sentences. Since it is optional, Baine recommends that it should be made mandatory if the Government is to achieve its goal of universal education.
Due to limited resources, not all the 224 prison units in Uganda have fully equipped centres to offer vocational skills.
As such educational skills are only provided at Luzira Upper, Luzira Women, Murchison Bay, Kigo, Gulu, Mbale, Mbarara and Arua prisons.
Baine recommends that education be extended to all the detention facilities to ensure that the prisoners benefit from the rehabilitation programme.
An inmate teacher conducts a Geography lesson at Luzira Women's Prison. PHOTO/Petride Mudoola
With 21 prison farms and over a hundred gardens, Uganda Prisons is among the largest producers of maize in the country.
Baine says the farms are used to impart modern farming skills to prisoners to ensure that they create employment upon discharge.
To minimise re-offending, Morris Kizito, the executive director of Mission After Custody, a nongovernment organisation, appeals to the Government to construct a home for resettlement of former prisoners. The organisation accommodates over 500 ex-convicts who were rejected by the community.
Re-offenders speak out
Nathan Ddumba says he finds it hard to do jobs that pay little, yet he can get huge amounts of money in a single day through robbery. Ddumba was convicted of robbery.
“I am used to life behind bars. I am not scared of being imprisoned,” Ddumba admits.
Another re-offender, Jackie Namubiru, a sex worker, says she was forced into prostitution after failing to get a job.
“I have, on several occasions, been arrested for being idle and disorderly, but I do not envisage myself engaging in anything other than prostitution,” she says.
What causes re-offending
Theologists believe crime is an inborn trait. They say by instinct, convicts can re-offend even when they have undergone rehabilitation.
However, Frank Baine, the Prisons publicist, notes that inborn cases in Uganda are minimal.
Inmates of Uganda Prison Farm in Ruimi Fort portal remove maize from the crib to the huller in preparation for milling. PHOTO/Petride Mudoola
“It is estimated that 10% of the criminal behaviour can be explained as an inborn trait, while 90% is related to the kind of environment one grows up in,” Baine says, adding that reoffending is higher among cases of robbery, defilement and drug trafficking. “
The re-offence is worse in situations where ex-convicts are rejected by the community.
In such situations, they find it hard to fi t into the community. They, therefore, re-commit crimes so that they can be sent back to their “once upon a time home,” Baine says.
The Uganda Police Force report of 2009 pointed out re-offending as one of the challenges it faces. The report noted that criminals released from prison frequently are being perceived by law enforcement as regular offenders.
Baine observes that inmate leaders who are recognised as “Katikiro” receive preferential treatment while in jail. Some of the Katikiros fear losing respect once they leave jail.
Baine points out that although inmates are equipped with practical skills, they are not facilitated to utilise the knowledge they acquired in prison, which makes them redundant, hence they end up re-offending.
Formal education, functional adult literacy, vocational training, religious empowerment and counseling plus farming are some of the rehabilitation programmes offered in prisons.
The vocational training courses include carpentry, metal works, engineering and construction, tailoring, handicraft, weaving, beauty skills and leather works.
During a conference on social relations and after care for prisoners in Kampala last year, the Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, reaffirmed the need for sensitisation of communities to reduce the stigmatization of ex-convicts.
“We need a mechanism to track down ex-prisoners to understand how they are received back into society,” Kadaga said.