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Gov’t To Construct Prison Facility For Mental Health Suspects

The Uganda Prisons Services has revealed plans to establish a new detention facility for suspects with mental health issues.

The revelation was made by Johnson Byabashaija (pictured), Commissioner General of Uganda Prisons Services while appearing before Parliament’s Human Rights Committee that was probing the continued detention of prisoners with mental health challenges in the same facility as those without similar challenges.

“We don’t have a facility for mental health suspects, we put them in a special ward, those include those waiting for the Minister’s orders and also those others being tried for other offences who developed mental problems while in prison. But we have acquired space in Butabika to establish a facility, we have availed funds and it has been a long standing facility,” said Byabashaija.

The Commissioner General revealed that the facility will be managed alongside the Ministry of Health under the auspice of the Butabika National Referral Hospital the main public facility for managing both general and specialized mental health cases in Uganda.

The revelation followed a complaint by Donozio Kahonda (Ruhinda County) who raised concern on the continued practice of detaining suspects with mental health challenges alongside the others, something he says not only affects the recovery of the patients, but also impacts on the quality of life for the other inmates.

Kahonda explained, “When you go to prisons and you find those prisoners with mental challenges, the way they disorganise other prisoners especially when it comes at night, to the best of my knowledge, the Prisons tries to separate but because of congestion, they have no space and you find at night someone is making a lot of noise past midnight to 3am and when they get into contact with other prisoners, they try to strangle them, so it is very challenging and disturbing.”

During the meeting, John Baptist Asiimwe, Deputy Director of Public Prosecution made several recommendations on the handling of suspects with mental health challenges including amendment to the law to vest the powers to determine trials of suspects with mental challenges from the Minister of Justice and have it vested in courts of law.

Asiimwe also recommended for the establishment of a specialized court to handle suspects with mental disabilities.

The development comes at the time a research study conducted in 2019 revealed that 14 million Ugandans are battling mental health challenges, meaning that for every 100 million Ugandans met, 35 are battling mental challenges but the numbers could be higher given the impact of the covid pandemic could have had on people’s mental health.

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