July 14, 2011


This report is based on 231 interviews, including interviews conducted with 164 prisoners (114 men, 44 women, and 6 children) and 30 prison officers at 16 prisons between November 2010 and March 2011. Prisons were selected to represent a diverse range of facilities based on type, status (formerly locally or centrally administered), size, and level of congestion. Access was granted by the commissioner general of prisons as a part of Human Rights Watch’s routine human rights monitoring in prisons, regularly carried out in Uganda for several years.

Table 1: Prisoner Interviewee Characteristics[1]

In prisons visited, researchers identified prisoners to approach for interviews in two ways: 1) according to a randomized method involving choosing prisoners from the available prisoner registers, and 2) targeted selection of prisoners to ensure representation of certain categories, including those who had been transferred from one prison to another to receive medical care, individuals identified to Human Rights Watch as having undergone specific types of punishment, and women (particularly women who had been pregnant or who had cared for a small child while in prison).

Interviews were conducted in English or in Lubwisi, Luganda, Lukonzo, Luo, Lusoga, Lwamba, Runyoro-Rutoro, Runyankole-Rukiga, Samia, or Swahili, with translation into English. One interview was conducted in French. The purpose of the research was explained to each prisoner, who was asked whether he or she was willing to participate, and offered anonymity. Prisoners were told that they could end the interview at any time or decline to answer any questions without negative consequence. All interviews were conducted privately, with one prisoner at a time. Each prisoner interviewed and quoted in this report has been given a pseudonym to protect the prisoner’s identity and for the prisoner’s security; surnames have been omitted to conceal prisoners’ ethnicities.

Prisoners who were interviewed averaged an age of 31 years. Overall, the most common charges of the prisoners interviewed were theft, murder, and defilement. The time the prisoners interviewed had spent detained ranged considerably between the different types of prisons visited, averaging 22 months, but highest among prisoners at farm prisons (on average 48 months). Prisoners often reported having been moved between prisons, and the time prisoners had spent in the facility in which they were interviewed also varied considerably, but averaged nine months.

Human Rights Watch researchers also conducted facility tours and interviewed 30 prison staff members at the 16 prisons visited, in addition to the Uganda Prisons Service medical authority. In some cases, official titles of individuals are not given for security reasons or at the request of the individual. At the conclusion of field research, Human Rights Watch sent a letter to the Uganda Prisons Service commissioner general of prisons on April 8, 2011, (see Appendix) requesting a response by April 29, 2011 to numerous issues raised in the report; Human Rights Watch did not receive an official response to this letter within the timeframe. Human Rights Watch again requested a response on May 13, 2011, and provided an additional summary of the issues presented in the report on May 16, 2011, at the request of prison authorities. An email response from prison authorities to some of the questions Human Rights Watch had posed was received by email on May 19, 2011, and by letter on June 29, 2011, as this report went to press. That information is reflected throughout the report.

Researchers also interviewed 15 members of the communities surrounding Sentema, Kasangati, and Ntenjeru Prisons (all Central Region), and three prison officers at those prisons, specifically about the practice of hiring out prisoner labor to private landowners.

Finally, researchers interviewed 18 representatives from local and international organizations working on prison, HIV/AIDS, and health issues; health workers within the Ugandan government; and donor governments and agencies.

Caution should be taken in generalizing the results of this research to all prisoners in Uganda. Because Human Rights Watch oversampled prisoners in Kampala-area prisons, which have greater resources than rural prisons, the percentage of prisoners receiving medical testing and care in this report may be greater than the national average. Also, the selection of prisoners within each prison was not perfectly representative. Researchers tried to systematically and randomly select prisoners; however, this was not always possible. Because of the diverse conditions among prisons and because specific groups of prisoners (noted above) were intentionally oversampled, Human Rights Watch has, to the greatest extent feasible, presented disaggregated data according to prison and prisoner type.

This report is part of a series of reports on health in prisons in Africa by Human Rights Watch. The objective of the series of reports is to examine health and human rights issues in prisons in Africa in the context of diverse health and justice policy, reform efforts, and resource availability.

[1] For the purposes of this report, the prisons visited are grouped into the following categories: Farm Prisons (Kitalya and Muinaina Farm Prisons); Former Local Administration Prisons (LAPs) (Bubukwanga Prison, Butuntumura Prison, Masafu Prison, Masaka Ssaza Prison, Muduuma Prison, Mutufu Prison); and Regional Reception Center Prisons (Fort Portal Men’s Prison, Fort Portal Women’s Prison, Masaka Main Prison, Murchison Bay Prison, Jinja Main Prison, Jinja Women’s Prison, Luzira Upper Prison, Luzira Women’s Prison). Data in the following tables will represent the responses of adult prisoners interviewed.