What are the rights of a prisoner? - Justice Centres Uganda
rights of prisoners

What are the rights of a prisoner?

In detaining inmates, three main custody principles must be observed by Prison Authorities. These are:

  • Remand prisoners are presumed to be innocent and shall be treated as such.
  • Men and women shall as far as possible be detained in separated prison units. In a prison facility that receives both men and women the whole of the premises allocated to women shall be entirely separate.
  • Children shall not be admitted and kept in prisons as they are meant to be in established rehabilitation centers.

Rights of Prisoners

On conviction or remand, inmates do not lose all their rights. Inmates retain the rights to:

  • Information on prisons rules, activities and regulations e.g. how a prisoner is expected to conduct himself, how to relate with staff and other prisoners, how s/he can be visited, the role of social workers and how they can be accessed, when they are supposed to attend court, appeals, possible dates of release, mechanisms for complaints;
  • Be treated with respect due to the inherent dignity and value as a human being;
  • Not be discriminated against on the grounds of race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinions, national or social origin, property, birth or another status;
  • Freedom of worship, whenever conditions allow;
  • Take part in cultural activities and education aimed at the full development of the human personality;
  • Undertake meaningful paid employment;
  • Make contact and remain in touch with their family members, relatives, and friends. The responsibility to assist prisoners make contact with the outside world lies with the social workers or officers in charge of the prison;
  • Have access to the health care services available in the country without discrimination due to their status as prisoners;
  • Protection from carrying out certain activities if one is suffering from HIV / Aids, or other similar disease or pregnancy;
  • Protection against any form of abuse from either staff or fellow prisoners like sexual abuse, rape, torture, denial of food, drugs or medicine, sleeping space, etc; and
  • Participate in the prisoner’s human rights committee activities.

The law allows Uganda Prisons Service to make rules in respect of the management, security and good order of prisons; as well as the safe custody, welfare and privilege of prisoners. Therefore, if you wish to visit a person under the custody of the Uganda Prisons Service, you may be asked to follow certain rules such as observing specific visiting times or refrain from carrying certain items into the prison. Below we describe some of the rules of the Uganda Prisons Service.

Confidentiality when Speaking to Lawyers and Doctors

Prisoners have to speak with their visitors in the hearing of a prison official. However, prisoners have the right to talk to their lawyers and personal doctors without prison officials being present.

Visitation Rights

All prisoners have the right to be visited following scheduled visiting hours. It is therefore important that visitors know and observe visiting hours and procedures for each prison. These procedures are provided at the entrance of every prison.

Visitors allowed by law to visit prisoners include relatives, friends, and voluntary visitors. Relatives include; wife, husband, children, siblings while voluntary visitors include the prisoner’s lawyers, Non-Governmental Organizations, Care officers, members of the clergy, and religious teachers.

Besides relatives and friends, prisoners have the right to be visited by their lawyers and personal doctors.

Other types of visitors such as researchers require special authorization from the Commissioner General of Prisons.

Visiting Hours

Generally, a prisoner can be visited on any working day- Monday – Friday between the hours of 8.00 a.m. and 5.00 p.m. However, each prison is allowed to make its regulations regarding visitation and therefore have different visitation schedules.

Procedures for Visitors

Step 1: A visitor is required to identify him or herself at the main gate of the prison and allow to be searched before entering the prison premises, following which they are directed where to go.

Step 2: A visitor is required to present their identification at the reception, register and provides the names of the prisoner they wish to visit.

Step 3: Once the inspecting Prison Officer is satisfied that the visitor has complied with prison rules and conduct, the visitor will be allowed to see the prisoner for a specified period, under the supervision of a Prison Officer.

NOTE: Personal effects and items carried while visiting a prisoner are subjected to a search. Cooked food and weapons of any kind are prohibited at the prison. There is also a strict dress code for visitors. Female visitors are prohibited from wearing mini dresses, skirts or trousers. Male visitors are also not allowed to come in shorts or vests.

Working as an Inmate

The Prisons Service runs farms and carpentry store that help train, rehabilitate and reform prisoners by imparting various skills to inmates which on release will enable them to transform into responsible law abiding citizens.

Prisoners on remand for criminal cases are supposed to carry out minor duties like cleaning their utensils and surroundings and to exercise for health reasons. They are not to be subjected to forced labor. They may also be given other work upon their request.

On the other hand, every convicted prisoner is required by law to engage in useful work taken as part of the rehabilitation process, and it must be remunerated.

A prisoner can only be made to work after being certified as fit by a Medical Officer. The work engaged in must be for the good of the public and not for the benefit of a private individual or concern.

Inmates Medical Care

Prisoners have the right to good medical care. Upon arrival at the prison, all inmates must be medically examined and their state of health record kept. A prisoner is not allowed to mix with others until he or she has been medically examined. HIV positive prisoners have access to HIV care and are provided with a special supplementary diet.

Prisoners also have the right to private medical treatment if they can pay for it. However, permission to receive such treatment must be sought from the Commissioner General of Prisons through the O/C Prisons.

Pregnant women prisoners are required to receive antenatal medical care and may only be subjected to work when found to be medically fit. They have a right to a special diet.

The children of female prisoners, born or brought to prison because of being under age are entitled to free medical care.

Frequently Asked Questions on Prison

Question: Why are prisoners denied conjugal or marital rights to sex?

Answer: The law does not provide for this. The denial of marital relations is also intended to prevent sexually transmitted diseases which could potentially spread throughout the prisons given the close proximity. Moreover, the already overpopulated prisons premises do not have sufficient space to accord couples the necessary privacy needed.

Question: Is hard labor legal within a prison?

Answer: No, hard labor is not allowed within a prison. Prisoners carry out minor duties as part of their rehabilitation and exercise. As a result, many prisoners turn into farming once they have successfully served their sentences. The work they do is also partly gainful employment intended to supplement their income. Prison work prevents situations where prisoners are kept idle because an idle mind is often the devil’s workshop. Being idle and disorderly in a prison setting is dangerous for peace and security.

Question Why are prisoners not allowed to receive cooked food from visitors?

Answer: This is a safety measure designed to protect prisoners because there is a risk that some unscrupulous and dishonest people could poison inmates or the food could be contaminated and if shared with other prisoners could cause a health-related breakout.

Question: Is there homosexuality in prison?
Answer: It is an offense to practice any form of homosexuality. If such practice is discovered in the prison it is treated as an offense.

Question Is it possible for female prisoners to get pregnant while in prison?

Answer: No, a female prisoner can’t be impregnated while she is in prison serving her sentence. The prisoners who are pregnant are those who are brought to prison when they are already pregnant or breastfeeding. As a matter of policy and strict regulation, all female prisoners are housed in a separate prison from male prisoners. Male staff are also not allowed to work in the women’s prison. Female prisoners are managed and supervised strictly and exclusively by female officers. This is all done to ensure a safe and humane environment for women prisoners.

Question: How are children born in prison or who come with their mothers treated and catered for?
Answer: It is only children who are below one and a half years (18 months) who are allowed to stay with their mothers. Once a child is over 18 months, the child is given over to the nearest relative or if there is no close relative the child is placed in foster care. Children are not prisoners and do not deserve to be in a prison setting for a long time. Children in prisons are treated with a lot of care and are provided with special food and adequate medical treatment.

Offenses by Prisoners

Prisons have regulations that guide prisoners during their stay in prison. The Regulations provide an elaborate list of both minor and aggravated prison offenses. All prisoners are provided with a copy of these regulations. There are penalties for all the offenses, once a prisoner has been found guilty of committing the offense.

Powers of a Prison Officer

A Prison Officer has similar powers, protection, and privileges of a Police Officer within a prison or while in charge of prisoners for transferring any person to or from prison and to apprehend any prisoner who may have escaped or attempted to escape from lawful custody.

Prison officers are responsible for the welfare of the inmates and, therefore, in carrying out their duty, as far as possible may use non-violent means before resorting to using of force.

Handling of Complaints of Prisoners

The law requires that every prisoner on admission be provided with written information regarding:

  • Regulations of treatment of prisoners
  • The disciplinary requirements of the institution;The authorized methods of seeking information;
  • What to do in case an inmate has a complaint; and

All other matters that are necessary to enable a prisoner to understand both his or her rights and obligations.

The law allows an inmate to petition the President through the Commissioner General of Prisons. The petition must be in a written form, An inmate may make a complaint to a Visiting Justice, the Commissioner General of Prisons, the Regional Prisons Commander, the Officer-in-charge of Prison. The law provides for the appointment of visiting justices to visit prison who are at any time of their choice, inspect a ward, cell, separate cell, yard, and any other room or part of a prison to which he or she is appointed.

Visiting justices can hear any complaint which an inmate may wish to make to him or her and can especially inquire into the condition of those prisoners who are undergoing punishment. The Visting justices can forward complaints received from inmates to the Commisioner General. You can contact Uganda Prison Service at:

Plot 13/15 Parliament Avenue, Kampala. Tel: 414 342136 Tel: 414 256751 Tel: 414 343330 Website:https://prisons.go.ug. Email: info@prisons.go.ug Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/UgandaPrisons/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/UgandaPrisons[f1] Toll free line 0800144144

Source: Judicial Service Commission: A Citizen’s Handbook on Law and Administration of Justice in Uganda. 4th Edition