Museveni urged to consider mass pardon to de-congest prisons

PRISONS | Stakeholders in the justice, law and order sector have urged President Museveni to consider mass pardon of inmates as a means to de-congest prisons across the country.

The presidential prerogative of mercy, activists say, can consider minor offenders and inmates who have served a certain quota of their sentences such as those with less than a quarter of a lengthy sentence left to serve.

“One recommendation to the Judiciary and President Museveni is to consider a mass pardon and community service for minor offenses. Pardon is also the only humane response to prisoners whose remand stay is near or over the sentence they would have received if found guilty,” said Angelo Izama, a journalist and social justice activist.

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“I really think President Museveni and the prerogative of mercy committee should consider early releases and mass pardons to unburden the prisons, do justice and de-congest.”

But the call is a long shot as Museveni has not pardoned inmates of any class other than political prisoners.

Frank Baine, the Uganda Prison’s spokesperson, said that every year in August, they submit names as per procedure to Attorney General — who is on the prerogative of mercy committee.

The Attorney General, in-turn, submits the names to the president for consideration.

“Every year we have been doing it,” Baine said, “but not because there is congestion but because we believe these people deserve mercy.”

Though Baine did not disclose any names they have submitted, prisoners pardoned under the scheme include the elderly, expectant and breastfeeding mothers and the terminally ill.

But when this news website contacted AG William Byaruhanga inquiring if he has submitted the shortlist of inmates recommended for presidential pardon, he said he was too busy to give an answer.

Inside congestion in prisons

According to the status of prisoners’ population and staffing position as of November 2018, the population of inmates in Uganda Prisons is growing at a rate of 8% annually, which is more than twice national population growth of 3.4%.

While appearing before the parliamentary Committee on Defence and Internal Affairs in November, Johnson Byabashaija, the commissioner general of Prisons, said the country has a total of 254 prisons with carrying capacity for a daily average of 17, 280 prisoners.

However, the prisons facilities are overpopulated by 37, 258, Byabashaija said, quoting the latest figures recorded in September.

Among others, for instance, the Upper Prison in Luzira has a capacity of 756 but with a population of 3,190, Masindi was designed to hold 262 inmates but has a population of 1,222.

Lira has a capacity to hold 121 prisoners but currently crams 679 in the small facility, Logore should be holding maximum 250 inmates but instead has 880.

Reports show that on working days, the average number of prisoners delivered to court houses across the country is 1,669.

Solomon Muyita, senior communications officer at the Judiciary, said they have kept on introducing policies such as plea bargain and the small claims court, which he says help in de-congesting prisons.

Prerogative of mercy

However, the calls for mass pardon, though with genuine concerns around it, could need more than just words to get President Museveni’s attention. What would he directly gain from pardoning inmates?

Most of those Museveni has pardoned are could be argued scored him some political capital. The last person pardoned was Sharma Kooky, who was convicted of murdering his wife Renu Joshi. He was released in 2012 after spending 12 years at Luzira prison.

Kooky’s pardon riled women’s activists but appeared to resonate with the Indian community in Uganda.

Other famous prisoners who have benefited from Museveni’s mercy are Chris Rwakasisi, a former minister for security in the Milton Obote II government; who was on  death row for two decades; and Brig Ali Fadhul, a former minister for provincial administration during the Idi Amin regime, who was released in 2009 after spending more than 20 years in Luzira prison.

Abdallah Nasur, former central province governor during Amin’s regime (1971-1979), was another beneficiary of the scheme. He was released in 2001 after spending 20 years in incarceration.

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