UPS: Dr. Johnson Byabashaija

Johnson Byabashaija Commissioner General of Prisons
Dr. Johnson Byabashaija

Born in 1957 in the South-West of Uganda in the Rukungiri District, I had the privilege to be able to study Veterinary Medicine at Makerere University (1982) and a Post-graduate Master of Science at the University of Glasgow (1986). During that period Uganda was in a dark period of its history without any hope for short term improvements. Practicing Veterinary upcountry was dangerous, so I searched for a job where I was allowed to carry a gun to protect myself. In 1983 I successfully applied as a Cadet at Uganda Prisons Service (UPS) Staff College. I could now enjoy my interest in Veterinary at a Prison Farm called Kigo between Kampala and Entebbe. This is the same prison where Second Chance Support (SCS) is executing it's projects; I know it very well. From then on I worked myself up in the organisation: 5 years as a Deputy Officer in Charge, 8 years as Officer in Charge both in Kigo Prison. Subsequently I worked at UPS Headquarters. You can imagine that starting as a veterinarian and ending as the Commissioner General of Prisons [for those not familiar with the Ugandan prison system: he is the General Manager of UPS] is an interesting life full of changes and challenges. I have enjoyed and still enjoy every single day and it has certainly become my passion!

UPS has some 7.000 uniformed and 300 non-uniformed personnel working in the country's 224 prisons. Small prisons function as local 'reception' centres; the larger ones hosting long termers are the more interesting units as they have the critical mass to offer correctional programs to convicts in prison. With a designed capacity of 16.000 persons, the daily average is approximately 32.000 persons in prison, so congestion is one of my major challenges. Like in any other country in the world, Government does not allow for a 'rich' budget, yet we are at the end of the legal chain and have to accommodate the number coming down the legal 'pipeline'. Having a fixed annual budget we are in a constant financial and resource battle with sometimes a large monthly number of people entering the prisons system. Fortunately the Ugandan government is executing the 'Case Backlog Quick Wins' project to reduce the backlog in our legal system. It is our strong will to solve the problems resulting from congestion, like improving the humanitarian situation of people in prison, unfortunately we are highly dependent on others in the Justice Law and Order Sector. It is my strong desire to not only improve the health standard in prisons, but improve the sanitation as well. Being realistic, the circumstances in Ugandan prisons differ widely from the rich European countries. Nevertheless we have strongly reduced the rate of starvation, we have no naked people in prisons any longer and improved the humanitarian situation dramatically. We have demonstrated to be able to successfully implement these programs in a small number of years, however, any external support for further improvements is most welcome.

Public opinion is getting more and more aware that prisons are not only institutions of punishment. Society will be more safe with a prison system that excels as a correctional organization. I am proud to lead the UPS management team in the successful transformation towards a professional organisation of a truly correctional based institute. During the past years we have put enormous effort in this positive change, aside other changes like offering all staff training in observing human rights, improving the external image of UPS, etc. We have developed a Vision and Mission that is up to international standards. Despite a severe lack of funds and resources we are concentrating on correctional aspects like offering quality driven primary and secondary education, vocational training, improving social behaviour and legal counselling. We still have a long list of objectives we want to fulfil, but we are making good progress.

For NGO's like Second Chance Support, we have not only implemented an open door policy, we also work together on basis of partnerships with a well defined Memorandum Of Understanding. Close cooperation with selected NGO's can further improve the quality of our prison system as a whole. I am glad to have invested and still invest a lot of time and effort to develop such a good relationship with them. Last but not least I am grateful to their Supporters, enabling NGO's to assist UPS and support the people in our prisons.

UPS Uganda Prisons Service
13-15 Parliament Avenue
P.O. Box 7182

Tel: +256 (0)414 342136