What explains the success you have registered with some of the rehabilitation programmes that are aimed at helping ex-convicts re-integrate into their communities with ease?
It is because of the programmes Uganda Prisons Service has adopted. These include the rehabilitation tools and the vocational skills which we have adopted and emphasized. This uniform you see me putting on is tailored by inmates; all the uniforms of my staff are tailored at Luzira Maximum Security Prison and all the uniforms of my prisoners all over the country—are tailored in Masindi. At Luzira, we have a screen printing department which does screen printing and we are the ones who produce mast flags and car flags like the presidential flags. We also do furniture after training inmates in carpentry skills. The President has given us some capital and directed us to produce furniture for the ministries, departments and agencies. We are now on the path of revamping our six workshops around the country. The first thing we have done is invest in a kiln for drying timber. In the old days, we never used to do that. We would buy timber and keep it for five years and then start using it. So our furniture was made out of timber which was air-cured. That is why our furniture you see is durable. The furniture you see in Parliament is made by Uganda Prisons Service. Most of the furniture in the President’s office is made by Uganda Prisons. Those big maroon chairs you see during important ceremonies are made by Uganda Prisons Service. We also do brick making. When the president passed out our warders in January, 2018; he also commissioned a project for low-cost housing. Those houses were built by prisoners and prison staff without external assistance at a cost of Shs27, 000 per sq metre. We are also doing metal works. You must have noticed recently when the Prime Minister commissioned houses for the Bulambuli project of housing the landslide victims in eastern Uganda. Prisons was showcasing the window and door frames which are going to be put in those houses fabricated in Luzira. All this is because of the skills we have imparted in the prisoners. We discovered that people who go through these rehabilitation programmes do not come back to prisons. People in Busoga grow a lot of maize but the Ministry of Agriculture did a study which found out that 90% of those people who grow maize in lines are our graduates from our prison farms. These are the only people in the country who know how to apply fertilizer manually.
How important is your prison farm system which is probably your most famed programme where prisoners work to grow their own food while gaining agricultural skills?
For a long time, we have been growing maize but in 1998, we decided to end the peasantry ways of farming. We got a consultant and we started implementing. You know Uganda is a country with two planting seasons. So we realized we could produce food for ourselves and we started doing commercial agricultural farming following commercial agricultural principles. We have since mechanized the process of planting. We have planters and we use herbicides. I have reached about 10,000 acres a year (Uganda Prisons has about 40,000 acres of arable land) which gives us 180,000 metric tonnes but this is only about two-thirds of what I require to feed my prisoners. We are now going to mechanize the harvesting, the cleaning, drying and storage. In one year’s time you will see these production processes.
Human rights abuse in Uganda’s armed forces remains a big challenge. How have you handled it at Uganda Prisons Service?
For us we are observers of human rights and we have trained our warders in this area. We now almost have no cases with the Uganda Human Rights Commission. The only cases we have date back to before 1998. We now have the anti-torture law (Prevention of Torture Act, 2012). When you abuse a prisoner, you stand trial. I already have two convicted staff; one is actually sentenced to death and two are still undergoing trial for assault and causing death of inmates. We have generally only improved what was already here. I am sure once I leave, those who come after me, will carry on with the process of transformation. I have no doubt about that unless somebody is appointed from outside because he or she will not know the philosophy and culture of handling corrections.
How have you managed to achieve all this success with a meager budget?
We have partnered with NGOs like the Africa Prisons Project, Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, Penal Reform International and many more. We have had a deliberate partnership with all these organisations to make sure that things are very good.
What plans do you have to solve the overcrowding problem at Luzira and the upcountry jails?
Overcrowding in Ugandan prisons is mainly a (result of) the criminal justice system. If the police were doing thorough investigations, the DPP would just prefer charges and then the judges would have very simple work in taking decisions and then I would have the convicts. Overcrowding is caused by the people on remand who are still attending court. On a happy note, for the first time, I have more convicts (those who have gone through the full cycle of the court process) than those on remand. I have been having more remands (60%) but this has now fallen to 48%. I think the judiciary is beginning to do better. Even our infrastructure is catching up. We are building a mini-max prison somewhere which is very significant because this is the first time since colonial times that the government is building a prison which will hold about 2000 inmates. Our maximum security prison was built in 1927 with a capacity of 600; now it has about 3000 people. With a stroke of a pen, we are going to finish congestion in Luzira and when you finish congestion in Luzira, the effect it will have is quite magical. This is going to be a game changer.
You are 62 and you are probably on your way out. What will be your proudest moment when you eventually retire?
My contract is ending next year in May, and depending on the appointing authority, whether he renews it or not, I will go out of prison with my head held high— that we have transformed prisons from the gutter to a proud institution of government. That is why when my officers walk on the streets in town here, they are not taunted. Actually when the public see our uniform, they only talk about (Stephen) Kiprotich. So why shouldn’t I be proud when I eventually leave?