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COVID-19 Fight: Uganda Prisons Seeks To Pardon 2000 Inmates

The management of Uganda Prisons Services has recommended to the Attorney General, William Byaruhanga to pardon and release about 2000 prisoners in a move aimed at decongesting the prisons and avoid the spread of Coronovirus within the detention facilities.

The plan was revealed today by Commissioner General, Uganda Prisons Services, Johnson Byabashaija (pictured) while speaking to journalists at Parliament today after his vetting by the Parliament’s Appointment Committee for his second term at the helm of Prisons.

Byabashaija said that both prisoners and prison officials are scared of Coronovirus, which has prompted to cut off contact with the rest of the world by banning visits, admitting new prisoners and isolating prisons warders from their families.

He said that the new prisoners are being isolated from the old prisoners by sending them to the new prison facility.

“Our main effort is to make sure the virus doesn’t enter prisons because it is only us who work there who can introduce it or the new prisoners. But we have made sure that the new prisoners don’t go into our prison,” Byabashaija said.

He added that all staff who work directly with prisoners have camped at the prisons and aren’t allowed to leave the premises so they don’t bring the virus to the prisoners.

On decongesting, Byabashaija said, “We have selected 1000-2000 prisoners who we think have completed three quarters of their sentences and aren’t charged of capital offences. The breastfeeding mothers who have served half of their sentences and aren’t capital offenders. We also selected prisoners who are above 65years and have served their sentences. We are going to submit the list to the Attorney General for consideration for pardon.”

Byabashaija also told journalists that Uganda Prisons Services had written to Registrar of Courts to release some Prisoners on demand but said the process is undergoing immense scrutiny to make sure that wrong people aren’t released to the public, “We are also writing to Registrar courts of Judicature to release demands who have reached their mandatory period but aren’t capital offenders to be released on court bond.”

Byabashaija’s comments come at the time a group of Human Rights activists had called for release of some prisoners and improvement of medical services in prisons across the country, in order to control the spread of Coronovirus within the detention facilities.

In a joint statement issued by: Advocats Sans Frontie`res, Chapter Four, Legal Aid Service Providers Network, Muslim Centre for Justice and Law and National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders, the team argued that the threat of spread of COVID19 and low staffing levels within Uganda’s Prisons and congestion is likely to cause tension among inmates, who might end up staging fatal riots.

The activists argued that although Uganda Prisons Services has halted visits to prisoners from members of the public, so as to protect inmates from Coronovirus exposure, which does not in any way address the issue of crowding within the Prisons. As of September 2018, the occupancy rate within Uganda Prisons stood at 315.4% 

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