3152 out of those on remand are yet to be committed for trial to the High Court
The aphorism "justice delayed is justice denied", is an enduring maxim that epitomizes the need to dispense justice fairly and quickly.
However, for the over 28,000 suspects locked up in the various correctional facilities in Uganda, the long period spent on remand, sometimes without getting charged of any offence, has made a mockery of the aforesaid adage.
Uganda Prison Service (UPS) officers led by David Nsalasatta yesterday told MPs sitting on the Public Accounts Committee that out of 59,280 inmates as of February 2019, 28,637 are suspects on remand.
Nsalasatta, the prison service's director production and engineering was at Parliament together with the entity's top brass to answer queries raised by the Auditor General, John Muwanga for the financial year ending June 2018.
"It would be a tragedy if I ended up in prison now because I don't know in what state I would come out due to congestion. It's almost a death trap," Nsalasatta said.
MPs heard that the reason why inmates are taken out to labour in farms of private Ugandans for a measly sh500 a day is partly to avoid the spectre of suffocation in overcrowded cells - many of them in insalubrious conditions.
A breakdown provided by UPS accounting officer, Samuel Baker Emiku in his written submission indicated that 3152 out of those on remand are yet to be committed for trial to the High Court.
The issue of congestion has compounded the enduring problem of overcrowding which Emiku revealed UPS is trying to solve by expanding the holding capacity of some prisons and construction of a new penitentiary at Kitalya.
Among the prisons that are due for expansion include Nebbi, Amuru, Kaabong, Orom Tikau, Ragem, Adjuman, Ibuga, Nwoya, Kyonjojo, Mutufu and Sheema.
The revelation about the extent of congestion in Ugandan prisons comes in the wake of an admission on Tuesday by the Principal Judge, Dr.Yorokamu Bamwine that understaffing of the judiciary is partly to blame for people languishing in detention facilities without trial.
Bamwine revealed that out of the required 82 judges of the High Court, only 50 have been recruited. For High Court circuits, out of the gazetted 20, Bamwine revealed, 14 are operational.
For prisons that are still relying on the ‘bucket system' as toilets, Muwanga has warned that overcrowding in such unhygienic conditions could lead to the spread of diseases.
Meanwhile, Luzira Prison is at the risk of losing 106 acres of prime land to rapacious private developers.
Muwanga revealed that a 2014 survey by the Department of Surveys and Mapping, Entebbe done at the behest of UPS indicated that instead of Luzira prison sitting on 276.5 acres, it had 169.8 acres.
Emiku conceded that when the survey in issue was conducted, the 106.6 acres had been parcelled into plots against its wish.
"UPS is pursuing the matter with the minister of internal affairs," Emiku noted in his written submission to lawmakers.
Other prisons that are the risk of losing land, according to Muwanga, include Kigumba and Kirinya.
Four years ago when Daudi Migereko was still minister of lands, the government issued a policy directive to the effect that all public land be titled to avoid encroachment by private developers.
This followed an audacious attempt by a private developer to evict metrological department in Entebbe claiming ownership of the prime land.