On Friday 28th August, the Daily Monitor carried a report (28,000 inmates spend nights standing.) in which the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee learned about the inhumane conditions of our brothers and sisters in “Universities of Understanding” (read prisons) around Uganda live in.
Due to congestion in the prisons around Uganda, half of those serving sentences are forced to spend their nights on their limbs or sleep vertically rather than conventionally lay on their backs for a good night’s sleep.
The other half that has the opportunity lie down has to bear the cold on a murky floor. The report clearly painted a gloomy picture of life in an institution ideally meant to be a correction centre for members of society who fail to conform to the socio-economic and above all legal demands of society.
Those tasked with ensuring the tables turn for the better did not hesitate to raise their finger and point it at the Ministry of Finance for under-funding the Uganda Prisons Services. It is that pointy finger premised on escapism which forced my mind to offer a solution or two to the concerned parties.
Limited funding is not a developing countries “curse”. It is a problem even the developed western world grapples with. And, it is not a yesteryear child, you can trace it to the bible if you so wish. Jesus had to feed thousands of his congregation with five loaves of bread and five fish. I hope I got the statistics right there.
Rather than cast his followers away to fend for themselves because the food available would only suffice him and his immediate disciples, he made hay whilst the sun shined. His divine ingenuity enabled him serve his followers with more than they could consume. Prisons authorities are mere mortals; they in no way have the power to perform miracles but have the power to make the most out of the bizarre situation before them.
It is well documented that time spent behind bars is spent on productive activities meant to remodel the lives of inmates. Vocational skills are taught in all Uganda Prisons today. Carpentry and woodwork, welding, arts and crafts are some of what is taught.
Therein is the answer to this congestion problem in prisons. Why is masonry not on the top of the list? Roll out masonry courses throughout all prisons, equip all prisoners with the skill, introduce a mason’s wing in each prison and thereafter furnish the prisoners with construction material.
Let them construct structures that will give them and those who will serve time after them a semblance of comfort. At the end of the day, they will have good bed rest, a skill that will surely come in handy once their sentence clocks out, we as a country will have prisons infrastructure to boast of, and Human rights activists off our necks.
And if they have no beds once the structures are up, a prisons welding department can be set up. Should they lack mattresses after that, a mattress factory can be integrated within the Prisons department. Brick by brick, a self-sufficient prisons department can be built.
A June 2014 report indicated that the number of inmates nationwide had risen to 41,516 yet the housing capacity stood at 16,040. These figures could rise largely due to the economic strife in the country and the wanton arrests that ensue during the electioneering season.
Should prisons authorities continue waiting on government to come up with a solution they may have to wait longer that Christians still waiting for Jesus to come –again because the current government has its priorities set elsewhere; transport, education, and not to forget security. Prisons authorities hence have to make a step up and make the most out of the burgeoning population in our prisons.