If you visit the prisons in Uganda, you will find many young able bodied people in jail. Some even for petty crimes like stealing chicken and cattle. The fish always rots starting from the head so consequently, these young people have done what their leaders have done in the past.
Generally it is not easy for someone with a criminal record or past residence in prison to get a job. This brings some things in mind. There are many criminals in the Ugandan parliament and it is up to the president to weed them out or else we face generations to come who commit crimes and think they will get away without being punished. In fact some get rewarded with promotions or Ministerial jobs.
What we need to look at is Human capital. Every able bodied person who is not actively employed is a big loss to the country. We need to have a conversation about how we can get people out of prison and into the work force in non criminal acts. There is a program run out of USA that does this with a 90%+ success rate. We work with prisoners to plan for their releases and then help them start their own businesses.
Prison Entrepreurship Program (PEP) works with executives, business owners and consultants to prepare the prisoners to be released into communities. They make a business plan, pitch it to executives and business owners, get funding and upon release they start their own businesses. http://www.pep.org/
What I have learned over the years since starting my volunteer work with PEP is that every human being deserves a second chance. People are very resilient and many do learn from their mistakes such that when given another chance, they end up contributing to their communities. Incarcerating people for long periods of time means they do not get the chance to contribute to the economy or the country. For the petty crimes committed in Uganda, many should not be in jail, at least not for the number of years they are sent away.
If you release prisoners without having a plan for them upon release, you will likely see them returning to their former life of crime. These people have skills and these skills could be used for good. Imagine a Drug boss. He has entrepreneurial skills so why not direct those skills towards running a business in his own community that is clean and no longer involves drug dealing?
Martha Leah Nangalama
The writer is a Business Plan Adviser for one of the biggest prisons in Texas USA