By Innocent Atuganyira
MASINDI: 518 inmates who are on remand at Masindi government prison have registered for a plea bargain program which is expected to last two for weeks in Masindi district.
Speaking during the official opening of the program at Masindi government prison on Tuesday, Jessy Byaruhanga the Masindi resident judge explained that 424 are capital offenders while 94 are petty offenders.
Byaruhanga added that the total lockup of inmates committed to High court is 880.
“424 of these have opted for plea bargain. This means that almost a half of these cases are going to be disposed off in two weeks. I am grateful to my team who were able to make this progress,” he asserted.
Byaruhanga added that the 424 inmates who applied for plea bargains translates to 11 sessions, adding that for a judge to conclude them he needs to handle 40 cases per session.
He also prayed that the plea bargain be continuous, adding that it should be done every quarter. “This will help address the issue of congestion and case backlog,” he noted.
Officially opening the plea bargain camp, Flavian Nzeija, the principal judge noted that during the judges’ retreat last week, they committed to emphasize plea bargaining as one way of reducing congestion and case backlog.
Nzeija asked the inmates to embrace the exercise noting that this is the only opportunity they have in negotiating their sentence.
He also advised that this is the only program for the people who are guilty. ”Don’t accept it when you don’t want it. If you know you committed an offence this is the time for you to accept such a sentence. Just come and agree on your sentence such that you can determine your future,” Nzeija further advised.
He also warned the inmates to stop accepting misleading advice from their colleagues.”If you accept it it’s upon you because you will end up suffering alone,” he noted.
Justice Jane Frances Abodo, the director of public prosecution, asked for the involvement of police in the plea bargaining processes.
“That’s why it’s good to involve the police because these are the people who are going to inform the DPP that the person has accepted. If they accept, their papers can be processed in a week and the matter is concluded,” said Abodo.
She also called for the involvement of plea bargaining in the daily work of the judicial officials saying that this can be done by designating a day for plea bargain every week.
“It’s not good to only wait for the plea bargaining camp. This can be continuous by doing it at at least once a week. Plea bargain should also be encouraged in the lower courts,” she noted.
Abodo also asked the defense prosecutors and defense counsels to negotiate for sentences which match the cases committed saying that the sentences must be just.
Masindi High Court handles nine districts in and a city in the entire Bunyoro. They include Masindi, Hoima, Kiryandongo, Bulisa, Kagadi, Kakumiro, Kibaale and Hoima City.
Felix Mugasha, the officer in charge of Masindi government prison, asked for more sessions to be organised.
Masindi government prison has a total of 1,855 inmates of whom 74 are females.
Mugasha explained that the inmates at the facility are complaining of overstaying on remand, harsh punishments even after going through the plea bargain process and congestion among others.
“We have maintained observance of human rights. I have registered non complaint of torture. All my staff are aware of human rights violation consequences,” explained Mugasha.
The prisoners at the facility are engaged in activities like vocational skills, formal education and adult literacy, spiritual counseling among others.
Cosmas Byaruhanga the Masindi district chairperson implored the inmates to utilize the opportunity instead of staying on remand without knowing their fate.
He also appealed to the judiciary to consider opening Hoima High Court circuit to help reduce the case backlog at Masindi high court.
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