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

The penitentiary system

There are 249 prisons in Uganda; 24 of them have been built in the past six years.

The Uganda Prisons Service (UPS) operates five types of prisons:

  • Maximum security prisons: host remand or convicted prisoners facing over 10 ten years’ sentences;
  • Medium security prisons: host offenders sentenced to less than ten years;
  • Regional referral prisons: hold offenders with long sentences in regions others than the capital district;
  • Farm prisons: host offenders sentenced to less than ten years or prisoners serving a last part of their sentence;
  • Reception centers: host petty offenders (sentenced to less than one year).

Luzira complex, the biggest establishment in the country, has four prisons: a maximum security one called Upper Prison, Murchinson Bay for medium length sentences, Kampala remand prison for pre-trial detainees and Luzira’s women prison. Luzira complex hosts death row inmates both in the male and female prisons. The prison has a main prison yard where inmates play football.

Luzira and, to some extent, other larger prisons in the regional capitals, are known for having better living conditions than smaller prisons in the rural areas.

According to UHRC 2015 report, 55 out the 173 prisons visited were unsuitable for human habitation. 59 others visited prisons had been renovated throughout the year. For example, Kisoko prison had toilets installed, and Mutufu prison (Sironko District) a canteen was constructed.

The construction of a new prison near Kampala –64 kilometers northwest of Luzira prison– started in 2016. Kitalya prison, named after the village where is located, is expected to be ready in 2018. The construction is carried out by Ambitious Construction Company Limited and the contract was estimated at around Sh18.3 billion (approximately USD 5.5 millions). This new prison aims to relieve overcrowding in Luzira.

Number of available places for prisoners


/ 'carrying capacity' - World Prison Brief

The UPS is the branch of the government in charge of prison management. It is under the wing of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

The total number of prison staff was calculated at 7,448 members as of April 2015. That month, 1,228 new employees had been hired by prison authorities. The guards-inmate’s ratio thus stands at 1:17.

Most prisons have a social worker.

The Commissioner General of Prisons, Johnson Byabashajja, has stated that staff levels are inadequate1.

Staff members and their families typically live in barracks on the prison property. UHRC noted that the majority of these structures were run down and dilapidated.

According to Tomas Max Martin, researcher at Dignity, the Ugandan government has been implementing an Open Door policy that aims to integrate international human rights standards into the penitentiary system in order to live up the new prison act, improve management and attract foreign investments and donors. UPS adopted the vision: ‘To be a centre of excellence in providing human rights based correctional service in Africa’. However, Dr. Martin notes that “Although UPS’s discursive and formal commitment to human rights is high, actual compliance with human rights standards is still low. In its own defence, UPS argues that failure to comply rests primarily with financial constraints2.

The penitentiary system underwent a centralization process in the 2006, after the enactment of the New Prisons Act. This reform was encouraged by international donors and civil society organizations. Local administration prisons (LAPS), which were managed by local governments, were typically also the prisons where human rights violations tended to be more common. With the 2006 act, LAPS were integrated into the central prison service – the UPS. The goal was to better train the local prison staff and increase accountability for ill-treatment. According to Human Rights Watch: “All local prison staff were put through a three-week human rights course and all prisons were ordered to establish human rights committees among staff and prisoners1. The national prison staff and the annual budget doubled following the implementation of this policy. However, prison population has also doubled ever since.

Most of the internal day-to-day management of prison life (administration and disciplinary measures) is delegated to prison leaders, known as katikkiros. According to Tomas Max Martin: “There is an implicit deal at Luzira. Prisoners will be incarcerated but their rights will be respected. Violence will not be tolerated. Laws and rules are applied consistently. In return, the prisoners must not only stay put, they must help to run and organize the place.” 3.

  1. US report on Uganda accuses Museveni regime of human rights abuses” in Insider, 04/15/2016  

  2. Tomas Max Martin, “The importation of human rights by Ugandan prison staff” in Prison Service Journal, n°212, march 2014 

  3. opt. cit. 

Number of guards



Guards-inmates ratio