Gulu prison inmates embrace plea bargaining campaign


The 640 inmates in Gulu central prison have cases of capital offences like defilement, murder and civil debtors.

PIC: Some of the inmates under going through plea bargaining at Gulu central prision. (Credit:Jackson kitara)

Gulu – A total of 640 inmates remanded at Gulu central prison were willing to plead guilty to offenses they committed to reduce delayed justices as the judiciary goes about its plea bargaining campaign.
The 640 inmates in Gulu central prison have cases of capital offences like defilement, murder and civil debtors.
The plea bargaining campaign was conducted for two days in Gulu from Thursday to Friday where officials from the Judiciary, office of the Director of public prosecution and lawyers from Pepperdine University in the United States of America Law outfit were at Gulu Prison to try 140 cases.
It was organised by judiciary in conjunction with Pepperdine University California, USA.
The judicial and a team from Pepperdine University including administrators, lawyers, professors and students took part in the exercise.
“This exercise of plea bargaining is likely to help us in Gulu high court circuit to reduce so much on the many case back log we have in the criminal justice system, within a span of a week, we shall be able to complete more 100 cases which in the normal court process we will not even finish 30 cases in a month,” the Gulu Resident Judge, Vincent Okwanga said.
Okwanga said with plea bargaining, they shall be able to complete more cases in short times with very minimal cost.
He said the accused persons will be actively participating in the negotiation of his or her sentence and go back more satisfied and the court will have sought the opinion of the victims and their relatives
“Between January and February 2018, my court was able to dispose of 165 criminal cases within a span of three weeks using plea bargain programme.
“If we used the normal court process, we would have not handled more than 30 cases and would have spent more time,” he noted.
Okwanga said normally Judiciary headquarter sends them an average of sh30m to dispose of 30 cases in one criminal session, but because of trials, adjournment, absent of witnesses, prosecutor or defense lawyers, the trial takes beyond 30 days.
He said if they continue sensitising inmates on the benefits of plea bargaining, more can be done with little funding, save on time and dispose of many cases in a short time.
Okwanga said it will also reduce on the case backlog criminal cases in judiciary system.
The Chairperson of the Judicial Training Committee, Justice Stella Arach Amoko said plea bargaining campaign was conducted to decongest the prison and to address pressing challenges in the judicial system like case back logs, high costs, delays and more.
Arach who is also Supreme Court Justice  said they trained defense lawyers, judges, representatives of the office of the Directorate of Public Prosecutions from Gulu High Court Circuit  and also sensitised inmates on their rights and benefit of plea bargaining.
“Plea bargain is fast, cheap and assist in decongestion of inmates. We are told that Gulu central prison was meant to accommodate 240 inmates, but at the moment, the prison is accommodating over 1,500 inmates,” she said.
Arach said “if this is the normal court procedure, it will take 10-20 years to complete these cases that are pending in court, but with plea bargaining, inmates are encourage to plead guilty then he/she negotiates for lighter sentence with prosecutors.”
She said it is the highest numbers in Uganda they have registered inmates for plea bargaining sessions.
Arach said in the two days, they handled 140 cases; 70 cases in a day and the judiciary in Gulu high court circuit will continue with the remaining cases.
She said they want to enroll the plea bargaining country wide because of financial constraints and small budget that the government put in judicial sector.
“The success rate of plea bargaining is high, according to statistic, we disposed of 12,000 cases using plea bargaining, and it has been embraced since 2014. It greatly reducing case backlogs,” Arach remarked.
Director of Public Prosecutions, Justice Mike Chibita said the plea bargaining sessions is 100% appeal free and a wind-win situation for both parties.

Some of the 640 remanded inmates waiting to under go plea bargaining exercise at Gulu central prision.(Credit: Jackson Kitara)               

While explaining the concept of Plea Bargaining, Chibita said it is a system that has been put in place where accused persons are enabled to bargain for a plea.
He explained that in Uganda, 150 cases are registered annually   although the number of prosecutors is only 300 spread out through 100 stations all over the country.
Chibita said much as the best practice is for one prosecutor to handle one file a week, the reality is that many more are handled.
He said the judiciary is faced with a case back log partly because of such challenges of limitations in both human and financial resources.
“It is cheaper, we do not have to involve a lot of resources to investigate or wait for witnesses to testify in court if the accused person can admit their guilt, take responsibility; then we involved victims of the crime and get justice of all the parties,” Chibita remarked.
Chibita said the police administration is taking challenges and responsibility and investing in training investigators, prosecution and also directorate of public prosecution have specialised units like anti-corruption department, international crime, gender and children and sexual offences
The project manager of the correlation, Prof. Jim Gash Pepperdine University said the signed memorandum of understanding with justice law and order sector that allow them to partner with judiciary, prosecutors and court system to assist in making reform to make the process efficient for the prisoners.
He said they have done the same exercise of plea bargaining in Mbale, Mbarara, Bushenyi, Luzira and Jinja high court circuits where they train local advocates, prosecution on how to resolved criminal cases more efficiently and cost effectively.

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