Moroto prison break: safety & security unit unleashed

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A statement on the preliminary report of escape of prisoners from Moroto District Prison indicates that a team of 15 staff of the Safety and Security Unit (SSU) headed by Assistant Commissioner of Prisons in Charge of Safety and Security Operations, has been dispatched to pursue the escapees.

It also states that Police and the army have reinforced the Prisons staff in securing the prison as well as pursing the escapees, along with extra ammunition to enhance prison security.

The statement presented on Thursday, 24 September 2020 to Parliament by the Deputy Attorney General, hon. Jackson Kafuuzi, on behalf of the Minister for Internal Affairs follows the 16 September 2020 escape.

In the statement, the Attorney General said there were 687 prisoners at the time of the prison escape, and that 224 of these, most of whom were on remand awaiting trial, had managed to escape from the prison.

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He added that 16 of the escapees had been recaptured and seven of them killed during the exchange of fire with the combined security forces, which has left a total of 201 prisoners still at large as of Tuesday, 22 September 2020.

“Moroto Prison has weak infrastructure, poor infrastructure design and low capacity to hold a big number of prisoners. The carrying capacity of the prison is for 197 prisoners compared to 687 prisoners who were in the prison at the time of escape,” said Kafuuzi.

He added that prisoners and staff were hit by cholera and then Covid-19, where 138 prisoners and seven staff tested positive for the virus; which in turn affected staff morale and caused panic as they waited for their Covid-19 test results.

An increase in prisoners’ population against a low staffing level, as well as long stay of some inmates on remand due to long pre-trial remand period is said to have led to the prison break.

On the ways forward, the Ministry of Internal Affairs has recommended the remodeling of infrastructure including a double wall fence with sentries, CCTV cameras, razor wire and installation of hydrants for all high security prisons within the next three months.

It has also recommended an increase in staff deployments to match security requirements to maintain prisoners for all isolation centres where there are increased admissions.

Members of Parliament, following the statement, raised concerns related to delayed trial of inmates on remand, human resource and living conditions of inmates in Ugandan prisons.

“What plans do we have to reactivate the High Court sessions such that the cases of these inmates are handled as expected?” noted Hon. Stella Atyang (NRM, Moroto).

The Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, told the House that a recent vetting of the Chief Justice, the Appointments Committee WAS informed that there few judges to handle the many cases across the country.

She added that the President had been written to, to increase the number of judges and magistrates.

“I want to ask Members that in the next budget, you support the justice sector by ensuring that we plan for more judges, more magistrates and more facilities,” Kadaga said.

Hon. Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda (FDC, Kira Municipality) tasked the Minister for Internal Affairs to present a more detailed report on plans to decongest prisons across the country.

“The conditions in prisons are bad. A prison like Luzira that is supposed to house 3,000 inmates, is now handling over 10,000 inmates. We need to know if there are plans to improve the conditions of our country’s prisons,” said Ssemujju Nganda.

Busia Municipality MP, Geoffrey Macho said the bounty on the guns stolen by the escapee prisoners as well as the bounty on the escapees, ought to be increased so as to encourage people to report any suspects.

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