Contributor(s)Fondation for Human Rights Initiative | Prison Insider

Daily life

100 prisons out of the 180 the UHRC visited in 2014 provided three meals a day to inmates (55.5%). Drinking water is scarce and do not meet daily needs of prisoners, especially those that have to work for long hours in the prison crop fields. In farm prison and in prisons in rural areas, may to some extent prisoners grow their own food or have supplementary vegetable gardens in the prison compound. Food is cooked centrally by designated katikiros, but affluent prisoners are often also allowed to cook their own food1.

The average meal is made of posho (maize) and beans. Porridge is proposed for breakfast. In most prisons, neither pregnant women nor prisoners doing hard labor get extra food rations.

The annual prisoner’s food budget is Shs23 billion (6,621,470 USD), even though it should be of Shs50 billion (14,394,500 USD), says Uganda Prisons Service Mr. Simon Kimono 2.

  1. The kitchen department in Luzira prison” in NTV, 10/03/2014 

  2. 28,000 inmates spend nights standing” in Daily Monitor, 08/28/2015 

The majority of prisons lack proper sanitation facility. Inmates have to use a “night soil bucket” to relieve themselves at night in 27 prisons. Buckets are used day and night in 22 prisons. UHRC has fustigated this ‘system’ on several occasions, calling it “unhygienic and dehumanizing1. The Uganda Prisons Service (UPS) spokesperson, Frank Baine, stated that sanitation facilities should be installed in all prisons by latest 2016.

Prisoners are allowed to shower once a day.

Cleaning is done by prisoners under the supervision of the prison staff.

  1. Uganda Human Rights Commission, “UHRC 18th Annual Report”, 2015 

Healthcare inside prisons is provided by the UPS, and therefore is attached to the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The 2015 UHCR report shows that 140 prisons had on site healthcare services. At Luzira prison (Kampala), some prisoners are trained to be healthcare assistants in the sick bay and can administer drugs to patients. This initiative aims to address the lack of formed doctors; about 65% of positions are not occupied. Detention facilities without a nursery can access government healthcare centers. Inmates can also access private healthcare if they have the means to pay for it.

Prevalence of HIV and tuberculosis (TB) in Ugandan prisons is considered high. Prisoners with HIV/Aids could access antiretroviral treatment in 87 prisons in 2015, according to UHRC. Human Rights Watch reported that “although sexual activity among male inmates is acknowledged by prison authorities, condoms are universally prohibited because consensual sexual conduct between people of the same sex is a criminal offence”.

Overcrowding and poor ventilation inside cells increase the risk of transmission of TB; its prevalence is believed to be at least twice that in the general population, which already is one of the world’s highest. An article published by Voa News reveals that TB treatments are often left incomplete. This has produced a multi-drug resistant mutation that can reach a mortality rate as high as 80%. Dr. James Kisambu, the head of prison health services calls for the creation of a TB treatment center inside Murchison Bay Hospital (Luzira prison). Dr. Kisambu warns that this disease can be transmitted to prison guards and then on to communities.

Local prisons do not offer mental healthcare; it is only accessible at Murchison Bay. However, no psychotherapy is provided there. Drugs are prescribed by visiting psychiatrists and administered by other prisoners. According to Human Rights Watch “inmates with mental disabilities at some prisons are simply isolated in punishment cells with no treatment”. An article published by The Guardian tells the story of Moses, who “among his other duties, is also a warder, personally responsible for the care of two dozen psychiatric patients, who are among the most vulnerable inmates in the jail. He shares their ward, organizes their medication and generally keeps an eye on them.”

Penal Reform International and FHRI note that drug consomption amongst prisoners is a rising problem and warn that drug related issues might come along if the prison administration does not develop drug dependence treatments1.

  1. Penal Reform International and Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, “Who are women prisoners? Survey results from Uganda”, 2015 

The activities offer varies considerably between Luzira Maximum Security Prison in Kampala and other prisons1. Some prisons propose rehabilitation activities such as academic courses, music, dance or drama, and vocational training.

Luzira is known for its prison’s soccer league, that imitates the European one. Some of the teams represented are Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, and Barcelona. Each team has 20 players. The Upper Prison Sports Association is the entity in charge of cordoning matches and it is run by fellow inmates. Luzira’s soccer has attracted international attention, due to its quality2 3.

Even though forced labor is prohibited under the law, forced prison labor is not expressly mentioned. The only case in which it is illegal is if prisoners are hired by a private company.

23 out of the 31 prisons that the FHRI visited in 2015 forced inmates to work. According to a report published by Human Rights Watch, “a brutal compulsory labor system operates in rural prisons countrywide. Thousands of prisoners, convicts and remands, are forced to engage in hard labor—cultivating crops, clearing fields—day after day1.

Radio Network reported, on February 2015 that prisoners were spending 10 hours a day digging trenches for the construction of a drainage system in Masaka Municipality. They were hired by a Chinese firm that had first agreed to recruit unemployed citizens and pay them four times more than what they were paying to inmates.

The Commissioner General of Prisons, Johnson Byabashaija, urged the Ugandan government to pay decent salaries to inmates in June 2016.

  1. Human Rights Watch, “Hard Life in Ugandan Prisons”, 07/14/2011 

Most prisons offer schooling and professional training. Some prisoners are a part of the teaching staff. In Luzira, the programs go from basic literacy to high school diplomas, vocational training (tailoring and carpentry) to university degrees in law with the local Royal Mutessa University and the University of London1.

The UHRC 2014 report shows that “706 inmates benefited from Functional Adult Learning Programs, 2,295 benefited from the formal education programs, 1,959 inmates enrolled in Vocational skills and 1,054 inmates gained knowledge in modern agricultural practices, brick laying and carpentry”.

Inmates are not forced to enroll in schooling or professional training activities. They usually take the step when they see fellow inmates progressing and changing their lives. The Ugandan penitentiary system rate of recidivism is estimated at around 30%, the lowest in Africa.

Inmates have access to common media outlets such as television and radio. Newspapers and magazines are also accessible but have to be paid for. Internet is not available.

Some prisons have and internal radio station or newspaper managed by prisoners.

Journalists and television crews have access to prisons and can interview prisoners without major restrictions.

Uganda has been implementing an Open Door Policy for over fifteen years. International organizations have been invited to come, evaluate the functioning of prisons and invest funds to improve it.

Nonetheless, external participants must obtain an authorization before they can go inside a prison.

According to The Guardian, the advancements of living conditions in Luzira were obtained thanks to the support if the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Swedish development agencies. The article further explains that “together they inculcated a hybrid prison culture that drew on western concepts of human rights and individual rehabilitation, Christian notions of redemption and forgiveness, and African traditions of collectivism and restitutive justice1.

Inmates’ salaries are lower than those of the rest of the population.
There are no savings accounts inside prisons but staff usually keeps record of a prisoner’s incomes on a book. They can use their incomes to buy basic goods inside prison, like food, hygienic products or phone cards.

Some prisoners that do not have incomes receive donations, from relatives or humanitarian organizations, to cover basic needs.

The Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) has a Commissioner General of Prisons, in charge of investigating and prisoner’s complaints or deaths and mediating in case of conflicts.

The prison administration organizes regular meeting were prisoners, prison leaders (katikkiros) and staff members can discuss their issues and submit complaints without censorship. Inmates can also communicate with prison chaplains, educators and volunteers.