By Francis Emorut
Human rights advocates have expressed concern of rising number of women prisoners in the country saying alternative measures should be employed to curb the situation.
According to the survey released in Kampala titled: “Who are Women Prisoners?” the number of women prisoners detained in Prison cells from 2012 to 2014 has increased.
The survey shows that in July 2012, there were 1,447 women prisoners, while 1,592 were incarcerated in 2013 and 1,879 imprisoned in 2014.
The activists said that not only the number of women prisoners increasing but also their problem is compounded by taking care of their children in poor conditions of prison cells.
“At least let government devise alternative measures of punishing women who commit offences by giving fines and community service,” Dr. Livingstone Sewanyana the executive director of Foundation for Human Rights Foundation Initiative said.
The human rights advocate was backed by an activist Sylvia Namubiru the executive director of Legal Aid Service Provider’s Network who said there is need to explore sanctions such as caution, payment of fines and community service for women offenders.
The activists pointed consequences of imprisoned women as loss of job, family breaking up, children abandoned on the street, stigmatization by family and community, abandonment by the husband and loss of home and others.
The survey conducted by the Foundation of Human Rights Initiative in conjunction with Penal Reform International was aimed at finding how prison authorities were meeting specific needs of women prisoners and their children.
The survey was carried out in Luzira Women’s Prison, Kigo Women’s Prison, Kasangati Prison, Butuntumula Prison, Jinja Women’s Prison, Gulu Women’s Prison, Masaka Prison, Nakasongola Prison and Kauga Prison
A total of 194 women prisoners were interviewed and the survey indicates that over half of them were convicted of murder, manslaughter representing 57% while others were charged of assault, theft, child abuse, fraud, human trafficking among others
The survey indicates that of 78 convicted, 29 representing 57% were serving sentences of more than 10 years.
In reference to specific needs of women prisoners, the survey notes that the latter lacked legal aid services, inadequate provision of health services and lack of vocational training.
The report recommends that appropriate action should be taken to reduce the number of women in detention, address the issue of violence against women because 37% of the interviewee experienced domestic violence and to provide women prisoners with rehabilitation and reintegration services as well as strengthening of health care services to women prisoners.
Olivia Rope, the programme officer of Renal Reform urged government to embrace the UN Bangkok rules on women offenders and prisoners.
The rules give guidance to policy makers, legislators, sentencing authorities and prison staff to reduce unnecessary imprisonment of women and to meet specific needs of women who are imprisoned.
Jamson Karemani, the assistant registrar of High court criminal division explained to activists that judicial officers have been encouraged to sentence women for community service.
As for breastfeeding mothers he said prison authorities are advised to allow the mother to attend to her baby and only work for three hours.
In attendance were government officials, prison authorities and members of civil society.