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Monday, June 4, 2012

Luzira Maximum Security Prison: Here's to second chances

Today, we had the privalege of visiting Uganda's maximum security prison and for many of us this was our first time experiencing what jail life looks like. As we walked into the courtyard filled with hundreds of male inmates, all eyes and attention were directed on us. Many of us were surprised that the only barrier between us and the inmates were just a few guards here and there. This prison has the capacity to hold 20,000 inmates and includes as many as 500 men who are currently on death row. The inmates on death row were all dressed in a white uniform, while the others were dressed in head-to-toe yellow. Even though the inmates in yellow aren't on death row, some maybe facing up to 310 years in jail!

 Luzira Maximum Security prison has recently been the subject of a welfare project by the African prisons project. About 3 or so years ago, the prison joined hands with Makerere University Business School and now provides education to approximately 50 inmates. As well as providing university level education, the prison also offers primary, secondary and vocational schooling,in which 1/3 of the inmates are engaged in some sort of education. While 60% of the teachers are hired women, some inmates teach along side them because they may have bachelors degrees already. The biggest surprise of the day was when we learned that those on death row tend to be their best students. Many who are on death row and are performing well in school can get change their sentence from death row to a certain number of years. What are your thoughts on changing sentence time, especially changing a death row sentence? Before these programs existed, riots occurred about once every three months and now they also never have any. The aim of these programs is to give inmates a second chance at life once out of prison and their moto is that age is not a problem, as long as you want to get something out of it. What are your thoughts on prisoners receiving basic education as well as degrees while in jail? Is educating prisoners sustainable?

 Also, since the judicial system in Uganda doesn't provide access to a fast and speedy trial, many prisoners maybe awaiting their trial in jail for 3 to 5 years and are found to be innocent.What are your thoughts on this process? Is it economically sustainable to look after these people for 3 to 5 years only to find them innocent?


  1. Luzira Prison... where to start? Prior to our tour of Luzira I was very nervous and scared for what was inside. However, once we were in I thought it was a clean facility and almost uncomfortably relaxed environment. I was uncomfortable with the fact that the guards and the inmates were “buddies”.
    To answer your first question regarding reducing their sentence from death row, I don't think that they should be allowed to take their sentencing from death row (unless it was a sentence of 100 years). I personally believe that if you are on death row, you shouldn’t be allowed to reduce your sentence. I understand that "the system" isn't always fair, however, more times than not, it is correct. I understand there may be different viewpoints and I am just expressing mine. But, think of this situation, what if one of your family members was murdered and the murderer was being considered for a reduced sentence. How would that make you feel?
    As for your question regarding education while in jail, I have mixed feelings about this one. I don't think that it should be a factor to reduce your sentence (probably because I don't believe in reducing your sentence while on death row). However, why educate the people on death row? They are on death row… I think educating the inmates that have lesser sentences should be educated so they can make an actual contribution to life once they are released.

  2. The prison was something I was looking forward to seeing most. I was actually pretty impressed with the cleanliness of it and the environment of it. Although I have never been to a prison in America and I cannot compare directly, I feel like there was definitely some differences that stood out, but overall it was pretty similar to what I would imagine prisons are like in the states. The main thing that shocked me though was that although it was "high security" it was nowhere near at the same level of security as what we consider high security but I never felt threatened the whole time. I thought the inmates acted very appropriately. I think that the inmates seemed to have a lot of human rights overall and the prison appeared to truly focus on being a correctional facility and helping the inmates. I did however feel as though there was no schedule or timing for anything, the inmates could kind of do anything whenever they wanted. I did really like that the inmates themselves were building things to improve their educational resources like the new science lab.
    One of the first things that I heard about prison in general in Uganda was at the graduation when they mentioned that there were students from prison also graduating through MUBS. This shocked me at graduation but I didn't understand the whole process at all until today and how big of a part MUBS plays in the education at this prison.
    I personally feel that everyone should be allowed to be educated and that what MUBS is voluntarily doing for these people is amazing. A lot of the reason people get into crime can be from lack of education, lack of opportunities, and challenging environments they were born into. I really think that the education offered there not only keeps them busy and builds healthier mind sets (which like Lindsay said has led to less violence and less deaths while in prison) but it also helps these people see their true potentials and gives them hope that if/when given the chance they can make something better of their lives. Some of the criminals are completely illiterate. It was crazy that there were over 700 inmates (ages 19-57) still in primary education level. In general I feel like Americans often take education for granted, where here more people see it as a very valued privilege. I felt as though I could even see this in a lot of the prisoners; a lot of the inmates had motivation, passion, and were glad they had opportunity to learn. Especially since there system is so slow on trials, and people in there could be innocent, I think everyone really does deserve to be educated especially in simple things like reading and writing – without that simple education they cant even pass the time by reading a book or writing letters to their families. A lot of these people wouldn't even be getting any education if they were still in society, so this is even more opportunities than a lot of them have ever had. Most people deserve a second chance, and with good skills and an education released prisoners can have a better chance to be more welcomed into society, getting a stable job and stay out of prison.
    The ones that will get out deserve to be prepared for success outside of prison.
    I do agree with Andy though that just because you can get some certificates in education, doesn’t always mean that you should get released from death row. But I think the courts understand this and that’s why it is a very situational based system and not everyone that goes through the education process gets less time.

  3. (Hey guys, this is Braeden again)

    I think it's amazing what they're doing with their educational programs within the prison. And the number of inmates actually participating in the prison schooling was surprising!

    As far as changing a death sentence, I too have very mixed feelings. Personally I believe that everyone deserves a second chance and that's exactly what this is offering inmates. My beliefs may have something to do with the fact that I don’t agree with the Death Penalty to begin with. I believe that everyone is entitled to life and even if a man killed another man, we would be no better by condemning the murderer to death. Who are we to decide who can live and who can’t? (Two wrongs don’t make a right.) So, ultimately, I think that allowing the men to have their lives re-evaluated by the court system is a great thing and I think it is a step in the right direction.

    On a slightly different note, I also think it's genius that MUBS is offering entrepreneurship as their program for the prisoners! Even though background checks may not take place as regularly here as in other countries, released prisoners will still have a harder time finding jobs once out of prison. But, training them to be able to start up and run their own companies so they can still make a living and give back to society is huge.

    Overall the visit was very interesting to me. While prison security here is much lower than in the US, I never really felt unsafe. Everyone was welcoming and smiled and said hi to us. Even the men on Death Row were friendly and courteous towards our group.

    -Braeden Stanley

  4. As with nearly everything associated with this trip, the visit to Luzira was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I was really surprised when the tour began with our guides leading us straight through the yard where all the prisoners were hanging around mere feet away from us. And everytime we left the yard and then went back to walk through it again there was an even larger crowd of prisoners, standing even closer, waiting to stare at us as we walked by. Being right in there with the prisoners like that was a bit nerve-wracking, especially after the list of warnings they gave us before letting us in. But I felt surprisingly safe throughout the visit, and I definitely learned a lot.
    I think that the issue of whether prisoners - especially those on death row - should be given a second chance is a difficult one at best. And it becomes even more complicated when you take into account the high levels of corruption present in this country. While we were talking with people involved in the prison's education program, the implication that many of the prisoners were falsely convicted was raised numerous times.
    But, disregarding the issue of whether they ought to be receiving reduced sentences, I think that educating the prisoners is a very good idea and definitely contributes to sustainable development. At the very least, this program has resulted in a decrease in riots, rebellions, and prisoner unrest. That alone saves a huge amount of money, resources, and worry for the prison staff and for the taxpayers whose money is funding the prison. Additionally, educated people who are capable of developing and maintaining their own businesses and generating incomes for themselves are less likely to commit crimes - especially crimes involving robbery, which many of the prisoners had been convicted of. Making an attempt to educate the prisoners and to teach them to be self-sufficient has the potential to decrease the instance of repeat offenses after prisoners have served their time and been released back into the community. I think that this program is very beneficial to Uganda in many different ways.

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  6. What an interesting and informative visit to Luzira Prison. I have to admit I wasn't quite sure what I was getting myself into when we walked into the prison yard to tour the area. I did enjoy seeing how a prison in Uganda functions and how they are using education as a motivator in prison.

    I think that it should not be right for a death row inmate to be released or a lesser sentence because they have received an education. I understand that education is an important part in improvement of people, but being released or given a lesser sentence does not seem quite right to me. Again, the system is not always fair so this circumstances do occur often.

    I am conflicted on this whole system of educating prisoners. I believe that everyone has a right to an education. I also think that the education needs to be fair for people across the board. Arthur (MUBS Dean) explained to me that these prisoners are not paying for their education. The prisoners are financed by the government and some money from MUBS. I don't htinkg that it is right for prisoners to get a free education, when hard working people who do the right thing are having to pay for the same education. This does not seem like a good system to me. I do think that educating prisoners is sustainable because some may get released and it will help society as a whole if past prisoners have been educated and better know how to get a job and be productive to society.

    Overall, this visit has given me a lot of knowledge. It took me out of my comfort zone, but because of that I feel I learned a lot and grew as a person.

  7. The Luzira Prison visit was so informative and extremely eye opening. While walking through the courtyard I kept wondering how many of the inmates were awaiting their trial and how many were wrongfully convicted. I was also wondering how much corruption can be seen in the prison system in Uganda.
    I personally believe that everyone has the right to an education, so I have no issue with the inmates receiving an education while in school. What bothers me slightly is I talked with Arthur and he told me that the inmates at the University level are not having to pay for their schooling at all. This bothers me slightly because it is not fair to students at MUBS or other universities where they have to pay for their education. When talking to Arthur he made it sound like the government was covering the cost for the supplies and MUBS staff was volunteering their time. I just struggle to see how this is fair to students who have not been sent to jail. I know that contradicts my above statement about everyone deserving an education. To clarify I belive primary and secondary should be taught, but at the University level it should not be funded by the government.
    I think it is interesting that inmates can appeal their sentence and get a shorter sentence because they are receiving an education. What bothers me about this is that it was explained that this was only an opportunity for inmates on death row. Other than educating yourself, why would the inmates in the yellow uniforms want to go to school? It won't help them get out any sooner. I think all inmates should have the right to appeal if they are proving they are attempting to turn their life around.
    I think the idea of teaching inmates is a good idea. If the prisoners aren't in class, some were building a new school while others were constructing furniture. Either way the inmates are becoming educated on a skill so when they get out of jail they have the opportunity for a job. I think the ones who are clearing focused on their education are taking it seriously. Giving more people in a nation the opportunity for an education can help the nation become more sustainable. They can contribute to the economy and possibly help teach other people so Uganda can become a more educated nation.

  8. I think it’s a very interesting concept to be able to be given a second chance. In my opinion, inmates should be able to work to change their sentence, but on a case-by-case basis depending on the severity of the crime. It’s hard for me to allow someone to be let out of prison if they choose to get an education, but knowing they’ve murdered numerous people. Education can be beneficial, but it can only carry you so far. However, I think the education system in prison is definitely promoting sustainability because if/when the inmates are let out of prison they have skills needed to be contributing members of society. I think it’s also a great way to pass the time and motivate prisoners while promoting positive behavior. I think that the trial process is skewed and not at all fair. It’s absolutely horrific to think that persons who are completely innocent are being taken away from their family, jobs, and daily lives to spend time for a crime they didn’t commit. It’s forcing the country to spend money housing inmates that don’t in reality need to be housed. Therefore, it’s not economically sustainable to spend money in areas that don’t truly need the funding.

  9. I will never forget our experience at Luzira Prison. As I am sure you were all aware of, I was scared out of my mind about the prison. I had never visited a prison or jail prior to our trip to Luzira and I was imagining the worst. When we first pulled in the area I was shocked to see inmates just walking around. I thought when we got up to the maximum security area that things would be more strict, but they really weren't compared to what I thought it was going to be like (this still shocks me). We were literally walking around with inmates. When we first walked in all I could think was the small sticks that the police carry around were not going to stop the prisoners from acting out. I am not going to lie for the first half of our visit I felt completely uncomfortable (as did Sharon). But once I got over my fears, I was actually enjoying myself. I really do think that people deserve second chances. If you have committed a crime, I believe you should be punished for it, but once the punishment or time has been completed everyone deserves a second chance. I think, in general, American society struggles with giving criminals a second chance. It is very hard to get a job in America with something on your record.
    I think offering the inmates at Luzira is giving them a second chance. As Arthur pointed out several times, a lot of the inmates have never had any form of education. The education is providing them a fresh start once they enter society. It was cool to see the inmates so interested in learning. It has been proven that inmates on death row perform better than others. Like it was said, this is because some who perform well in their education have been taken off of death row. I think this is completely fair. Putting a large amount of effort into their schooling shows that they are trying to become a better person and want the ability to have a second chance. Arthur was telling us about a man whose sentence was shortened due to his performance in his education. He was recently released and has opened up his own successful shop. Educating the inmates is improving the sustainability because it allows them to hopefully enter the workforce once they have been released. I find the fact that the trials take up to 3-5 years very frustrating, for several reasons. Think about all of the possible innocent people sitting in prison for 3-5 years. I don't really understand why it takes this long, but it is causing a lot of extra unneeded expenses. Overall our trip to the prison was very eye opening. It was very interesting to see their education system just like the others in the "outside world".

  10. Going off of what Micah said, was anyone else scared out of their minds? I felt like I kept composure most of the time, but I was also paranoid at the same time. I have always thought of the prison "yard" as one of the most dangerous places to be in. You have a good majority of the inmates walking around together with little restrictions other than the confined area. We were literally walking through this "yard" with nothing more than 4 or 5 guards with sticks. If you noticed, there also weren't any towers or guard platforms to get a birds eye view of the place. All I kept on thinking about was how if a riot did break out, we wouldn't stand a chance. Anyone else feel that way? I guess you could always make the point that we were accompanied by well respected leaders of the school but nevertheless I was still freaked out.

  11. I was very impressed with the education system that the prison had in place for these prisoners. I think that every prisoner should be given the opportunity to better themselves through education. If we do not allow them to get educated, they will have the same criminal mindset forever. If they are released from prison, wouldn't we want them to have an education so that they can help the economy and so that they aren't as big of a threat to us all? Without education, we still have the same criminals roaming around and giving harm to all.
    On another note, I do not understand why prisoners have to wait 3-5 years to hear their sentence. If a prisoner is found innocent, the prison wasted part of their life that they will never get back. I think that there are multiple ways to make this process more sustainable for the country, and the prison needs to evaluate these possibilities.