According to the recent report from the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI): “Justice delayed is Justice denied “ Prisons are holding perhaps as high as three times the official capacity.
This has resulted in overcrowding which in turn has led to outbreak of diseases and making it easy to spread any infections. There is no rehabilitation that can take place in these circumstances and nothing is done to prepare the convicted person for his eventual release to society.
Most importantly however, it has come to be appreciated that imprisonment is an expensive exercise because those on remand are being fed using Government resources( Ugandan taxes) yet the alleged offenders are non productive to the country.
Even where financial resources are available, the prison budget is usually accorded low priority.
Several years of research by criminologists and sociologists world over have shown that imprisonment does not curb recidivism. On the contrary imprisonment is likely to harden even a non – serious offender.
The trend world over, particularly in the case of first and youthful offenders, is to shift away from punitive and retributive practices towards rehabilitative, educational restoratative options.
We should admit that there is a category of offender who should be incarcerated in order to protect society. Persons who commit serious offences such as murder, rape, robberies committed in circumstances of aggravation, traffic in hard drugs etc, deserve incarceration and in some cases for long periods.
In such cases, it is the protection of society aspect of punishment that should be emphasized
While most countries in Africa face the problem of overcrowding in their prisons, the reality of the situation is that most of the persons to be found in these institutions are non – serious offenders who perhaps should never have been sent there in the first instance. And in other cases, accused persons end up serving as a consequence of failure to pay a fine.
If appropriate sentencing options were to be made available to the courts, fewer people would be sentenced to effective prison sentences. This would be very beneficial to the convicted person and to society.
The convicted person would avoid going to prison where he is likely to be contaminated by the worst elements in society. He continues to fend for his family, avoids stigma that normally flows from imprisonment, for society, there is considerable saving on the prison budget.
The convicted person is more likely than not to become a law-abiding citizen and a person sentences to imprisonment could become hardened during this period of incarceration and society would still have to live with him on his release.
Uganda should embark on programmes to divert convicted persons from prison and in some cases from prosecution. The rationale is to punish such persons for the wrongs done to society but at the same time ensure that they are kept out of prison.
These programmes have shown that while some funding is necessary initially set up such schemes, it is less expensive to keep non-serious offenders out of prison than in prison.
With the adoption of suitable dispositions on non-custodial alternatives, the problem of overcrowding in our prisons could considerably be reduced.
In conclusion, there are a number of situations where a prosecution is really not in the interests of the accused or the criminal justice system. It becomes necessary in such cases to divert the accused person from the formal criminal justice system but still ensure that the accused person is made to pay reparations for his wrongs in society.
Diversion is intended to complement and not replace community service order. This type of programme can be implemented with few resources.
There are other non-custodial sentences such as fines or wholly suspended prison sentences which are not always fully utilized by the court. I do not believe however that these really call for comment.
In society, there is need for several options. The whole problem of criminality requires a multi-prolonged approach. It needs to be tackled from different angles using different approaches.
The writer works with the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative
- See more at: http://www.newvision.co.ug/new_vision/news/1449848/uganda-adopt-custodial-sentence#sthash.lxiEbHYO.dpuf