Uganda: Mission on Prisons and Conditions of Detention - 2001


Commissioner Dr Vera Mlangazuwa Chirwa, Special Rapporteur on Prisons and Conditions of Detention in Africa, visited Uganda from 11 to 22 March 2001. The purpose of this visit was to evaluate and document conditions of detention in Uganda and to build a constructive and permanent dialogue with the government of Uganda with the aim of improving conditions of detention and rehabilitation in Uganda.


General recommendations

  1. Overcrowding is the most important problem. It is the source of many problems found. The Special Rapporteur would like to draw the attention of the Government of Uganda to the fact that the solution to this issue is not to build more prisons, but to reform the system towards more efficiency in the police and courts. The Special Rapporteur recommends that the initiatives that have already been taken to reduce congestion be developed and implemented throughout the country. Moreover, the following measures could contribute to further addressing the problem:
  • Offences such as idleness should be removed from the Penal code and other offences which could be dealt with in another way should be decriminalised (e.g. Community service could be ordered for those who failed to pay taxes);
  • Alternative sentences, suspended sentences and probation should be implemented;
  • Considering the large proportion of persons on defilement cases, the government should consider amending the law to ensure that magistrates courts be able to dispose of them. Magistrates could pay a particular attention to these cases and investigate thoroughly to avoid unfair prosecution.
  1. Local administration of prisons needs urgent attention: 
  • Their budget should be increased in order to ensure that inmates are kept in humane conditions (Mpigi, Kasese); 
  • The working conditions of inmates there should be systematically investigated. Overwork and forced labour should be eradicated, as they amount to human rights violations and degrading and inhumane treatment. Moreover, thy are prohibited by the Constitution.
  1. The behaviour of staff towards inmates should change: 
  • Inmates complained of ill-treatments and corporal punishment should be ended in all places were it is still used by staff and leaders amongst prisoners; 
  • Intimidation and discrimination should not be resorted to as a way of controlling prisoners and other measures should be used to keep discipline; 
  • Officers in charge should be given the opportunity to move to another station after a certain period of time; some have overstayed and become uncaring; 
  • Human rights sensitisation for staff and inmates (particularly ward leaders) should be intensified
  1. Advances made towards increasing the budget of all institutions dealing with inmates and offenders should be increased and closely monitored to ensure that inmates are kept in good and healthy conditions. Assistance should be planned and according to the needs, not as an answer to crisis situations. It should include a budget for maintenance of prisons.
  2. Rehabilitation programmes should be developed to ensure that inmates prepare themselves for release and for a constructive life in the future. Educational and literacy programmes adapted according to length of detention and vocational training should be offered as well.
  3. Officers in charge should not restrict the freedom of prisoners too much as is the case in Mbale or Masindi for instance. Most of the time, prisoners are indoors; they should be given time to do outdoors exercises;
  4. Corruption practices at the police should be investigated and eradicated.
  5. Infrastructures are very poor. Tororo and Kasese local administration prisons should be closed as well as Mbale central government prison, as they are currently dangerous for inmates and staff. Staff quarters should be rehabilitated.
  6. Hygiene and accommodation should be improved. Inmates should be provided with enough bedding, soap, detergent and cleaning material as needed.
  7. The Legal assistance and representation at hearings should be improved. In particular, Uganda should investigate the possibility to develop paralegal systems to sensitise inmates on their rights and represent them to court.
  8. Government should consider abolishing the death penalty. Death sentences passed should be commuted into long term sentences.


  1. The budget for the prison and police health service departments to buy pharmaceutical products should be increased to improve supplies of these products for the prison and police medical departments. A better distribution strategy for these drugs should be set up, ensuring that those health centres furthest from the capital receive their monthly allowance of drugs locally, without being obliged to send to Kampala for it. Moreover, the Ministry of Gender, Work and Social Development should open up a budget line for the purchase of pharmaceutical products for the juvenile prison under its responsibility.
  2. Existing medical facilities should be refurbished and expanded when it is not possible to build new ones, especially in the large prisons. In particular, consulting and treatment, observation and quarantine rooms for contagious diseases, and toilets should be built.
  3. The supply of beds and mattresses as well as small items (bandages, stethoscopes,sphygmomanometers, sterilisation equipment for medical materials, etc.) for the medical departments should be improved. The model hospital of Murchison Bay should be supplied with the additional equipment it needs to render its surgical unit operational. Furthermore, the larger health centres in prisons and police stations, and those that are far from big hospitals should be provided with means of transport for the patients (ambulance).
  4. Prison superintendents should have the necessary resources at their disposal to be able to deal directly with any emergency treatment needed for some prisoners who, for instance, might need a surgical operation and to be able to provide special diets recommended by the doctors for some of the detainees.
  5. The head of the prison health department should have more staff. In this respect, it is recommended that prisons, like the police, recruit their own personnel.
  6. AIDS education programmes should be strengthened and voluntary screening should be encouraged. For this purpose, it is of the utmost importance to offer the AIDS test free of charge for all prisoners.

Prison Bill

The Adoption of a new Prison Bill is a unique occasion to promote and implement much needed changes and new policies, as described in the policy documents of UPS and international standards. The Draft that is currently circulating does not meet these challenges.

The Special Rapporteur would like to encourage the UPS to move from a paramilitary approach to a management based on the identification of needs of the prison population in order to prepare their reintegration into their communities; the combination of static and dynamic security principles will reduce risks for staff and improve their working conditions as well as living conditions for prisoners; The new Prison Bill should include changes that will support the fundamental goals, values and principles articulated in the Uganda Policy Document 2000 and Beyond, as well as the principles of the 1996 Kampala Declaration on Prison Conditions in Africa and the African Charter on Prisoners Rights (CESCA - 2001).