Principal Judge Yorokamu Bamwine has condemned magistrates who impose jail sentences onto breastfeeding and expectant mothers who have been found guilty of committing petty offences.
The administrative head of the High Court and courts below, explained that prison is not the best place for breastfeeding mothers to dwell and that such categories should be given alternative punishment.
“If you are a magistrate and you have already convicted and sentenced a breastfeeding mother and sent her to jail, you are doing a disservice to this nation,”
Justice Bamwine said on Wednesday while convincing over 1000 inmates of Nyamushekyera prison in Bushenyi Town to embrace, a new justice program dubbed “plea bargaining”.
“She is a mother and the prison is not the best place for her and her child. Find alternative punishment but not to send them to jail,”Mr Bamwine added.
“A mother is in prison because she is in conflict with the law and this mother is breastfeeding, that child is a mitigating factor. Imprisonment should be an exception rather than a goal so people should not rush to impose imprisonment sentences when there are other options to save the mother from going to prison and save an innocent child from going to prison,” he said.
The advice of Justice Bamwine was prompted by a call made by the in-charge of the Nyamushekyera Women’s section, Principal Officer One, Jean Margaret Amori at the same training held inside the prison.
The in-charge gave alarming statistics when she revealed that the women’s wing is accommodating 85 inmates and yet the wing was originally designed to accommodate 47 inmates. She added that out of the 85 female inmates under her custody, seven of them are breastfeeding.
To that effect, she made the call to justice Bamwine who was the chief guest by suggesting that breastfeeding mothers and pregnant women who face petty charges of like stealing matooke not to be sent to the already congested prison but instead release them.
Weighing in on the same concern, Supreme Court Judge, Stella Arach Amoko who doubles as the chairperson of the Judiciary’s training committee, advised the breastfeeding and expectant mothers facing petty offenses to own up their mistakes under the plea bargain program and apologise and return to their homes.
Justice Arach warned that if the inmates don’t embrace the plea bargaining program, given the biting case backlog that the Judiciary is facing, they might spend over 100 years in jail.
Plea bargain is an agreement in a criminal case between the prosecutor and the accused person whereby the latter agrees to plead guilty to a particular charge in return for a lighter sentence or lessening of the charges.
The Principal Judge is on the week-long launch of the training program for judicial officers, state attorneys, and lawyers on how to best effectively encourage inmates own up their mistakes and plead guilty in exchange of lenient sentences.
The training is being led by American law professor, Jim Gash from Pepper-dine University.
The new justice program that was launched in 2014, is aimed at reducing on the huge case backlog of standing at about (37,827) that the Judiciary is grappling with and also on reducing on the prison congestion that is at alarming rates.