“I appeal to government to help us. We want more convicts in our system than remands."
PIC: Principal Judge Yorokamu Bamwine (left) and assistant commissioner in charge of imprisonment Robert Munanura chats with an inmate during the plea bargaining training at Luzira Upper Prison on Wednesday. (Credit: Maria Wamala)
KAMPALA - Robert Munanura, a Prisons commissioner in charge of imprisonment, has said that their prison capacity has been stretched to the limit as the number of remands hit 51% of the inmates population.
"Prisoners capacity is three times more than the occupancy rate, with more people on remand than on conviction. These people sleep body to body," he said.
Speaking at the opening of a plea bargain training at Luzira prison complex on Wednesday, Munanura said that though the total capacity of Luzira prisons is 1,500, they now have 52,317 prisoners, with 27,368 on remand.
He revealed that in Luzira Upper Prison, the maximum capacity is 668 yet they now have 3,300; Murchison Bay has a capacity of 602 but now has 2,460 prisoners; Luzira women's prison has a capacity of 141 but now has 506 women with 33 children under the age of two years.
Kampala remand prison has a capacity of 100 but now holds 309 prisoners.
"I appeal to government to help us. We want more convicts in our system than remands," he said.
Wilson Obote, while presenting a petition on behalf of fellow prisoners, said the congestion is caused by the mass Police arrests and fabricated charges placed upon randomly arrested people.
He said when the suspects are released on bail, Police arrest them again and fabricate a charge of a crime committed when the suspect was in prison.
"These kayoola arrests like in the Kifeesi case and later putting people on long remands on fabricated charges should be addressed," he said.
Earlier, the prisoners' representatives met privately with the Principal Judge, Yorokamu Bamwine and his team from the Justice Law and Order Sector (JLOS), where the details of the complaints were discussed.
Among the issues discussed at the closed-door meeting were arbitrary arrests, forced confessions, delayed appeals, long remands and prisoners on minister's orders.
In his rushed appeal to the JLOS, Obote said there is need to harmonise sentences for cases with similar facts but heard by different judicial officers.
He asked Bamwine to also take keen interest in Police's method of torturing suspects to extract confessions, and also help the mentally ill inmates to get justice.
He also accused Police of taking their property, confiscated as exhibit, and asked the judge to direct them to return the property to the rightful owners.
Moses Ssentalo, the officer in charge of the Prison, noted that although they have numerous challenges, the inmates are disciplined.
Plea bargain is an agreement in a criminal case between the prosecutor and defendant (accused), whereby the defendant agrees to plead guilty to a particular charge in return for some concession from the prosecutor especially a lesser sentence.
'Programme is voluntary'
Bamwine said that unlike the normal trial, where a judge in one session handles only 45 cases at approximately sh40m, in plea bargain, many cases are handled at a time at sh300,000.
He said their visit to the prison was inspired by reports that prisoners were being forced to confess to crimes.
"This programme is voluntary and is one of the innovations introduced to decongest the prisons, speed up delivery of justice and save time," he said.
Bamwine gave a message of hope to the inmates and urged those who are guilty to take up plea bargain in order to save the lengthy time they would take on a normal trial.
He said the programme gives them an opportunity to negotiate their sentences and works for only those who own up to the offences.
"God is pleased with those who admit their offences and confess them; likewise, the public will also be happy with that person. The only difference is that while God forgives, for us, an offender must get a deserved punishment."
The training was attended by the Director of Public Prosecutions, Mike Chibita, magistrates and lawyers.