Time to make detention fair, safe


EVERY year, suspected offenders find themselves in jail without being convicted of anything, often for months at a time as they await trial.
The impact of this unfair, harmful and inhumane practice spreads beyond the detainee to families, communities and the Government.
Pretrial detention serves an important purpose in the judicial process, but in practice, it’s stretching the capacity of already-overcrowded prisons and undermining respect for the criminal justice system.
Someone has to start coping with the blame for keeping remandees in prisons for long periods which is already deemed as a violation of one’s human rights.
A father mourning for his son, one of the 11 shot dead while escaping from Buimo Prison last month, is blaming police and prison officers for his son’s death.
His son was on remand awaiting the hearing of an alleged murder case that took place in 2018.
Detainees are simply awaiting trial by courts and each has as good as half a chance to be freed at the end of their trial.
They are presumed innocent of any offence for which the person is remanded, and the detention is not imposed as punishment.
While the police are doing an excellent job in removing trouble makers off the streets and sending them to jail, the support at the other end is not enough.
Most end up waiting for years because either court files have not been prepared or there is a delay in hearing of their cases.
The agony of waiting for their day in court has led to frustration and might we add, it’s injustice to those who are innocent.
The human rights standards and practice states that anyone charged with a penal offence should be presumed innocent until proven guilty in a fair trial.
Holding them for long periods is like sentencing them without trial.
Whatever little hope left for the remandee goes out the window when days turn into weeks, months and years.
Investigations conducted into jail breaks have revealed that most of those who dashed for freedom were detainees or what some term as alleged offenders mostly on administrative issues.
And one reason that stands out is the prisoner’s frustration.
The buck has always been passed from one authority to another for the delay in hearing remandee’s cases.
The hold-up to how far and fast their case is scheduled for hearing falls on the process involving police (investigations and prosecuting), prosecutors (who should be ensuring the cases are heard as soon as possible) and judges or magistrates (for not being tougher on this). At the same time, the Correctional Services need urgent help from the Government through adequate annual funding for its planned programmes for expansion and improvement.
It would also help to separate low-risk inmates, remandees included, away from the major prison camps so they could serve their terms in district stations while being engaged in practical community service.
There are measures that governments and legal practitioners can take to reduce this heavy burden on society, to make detention fairer, less harmful and more humane.
It can be accomplished through adjustments to existing procedures and institutions, and it invariably means rethinking the current approach to crime and punishment in the country.