The Deputy Commissioner General of Police (DCG) Mary Gahonzire was in October 2009 named as the new head of prisons. DCG Gahonzire’s appointment saw the prisons department being elevated from a directorate to a national service within the ministry of Internal Security. In this interview with The New Time’s Fred Oluoch-Ojiwah. DCG Gahonzire talks about her brought plans for the transformation of the country’s prison system.
Does it mean that your transfer could be one way of making new deployment by Government for the purposes of turning around the prisons services in one way or another?
Yes it is, reasons being that our country in line with the 2001 constitution, the prisons legislation was reviewed and we got the 2006 Prisons law, and all in line with Rwanda’s compliance to all the international laws, regulations and standards .
Prisons service is part and parcel of the entire Justice system, with our main duty being to look after those committed to prisons (by the courts), with humanity and help them lead law –abiding and useful lives in custody and after release.
Our mission, vision and strategic objectives emphasize among others correctional, Security of prisoners and general public, along with other regimes that are in line with international standards.
Rwanda has had a long and strenuous run in order to reach where she is, considering the heavy burden that was imposed by the war and the genocide.
Could you just elaborate on that appointment as we know that prior to your coming into prisons there was some sort of service in place.
The service had been run as a directorate under the ministry of internal Affairs until recent appointment of a commissioner General. This does not mean however that the Directorate then was not serving properly.
The management of the said directorate with our ministry did good work, and what we have started on is basing on what they built. I am privileged to serve my Mother land in that capacity.
With those changes what is the current status of affairs of the prisons facilities now that you have settled in.
Basing on Government policy regarding prisons we are set to make a paradigm shift from more of prisons management towards more of correctional and other regimes that will reduce re-offending and offer reintegration to the inmates.
Concerning the physical facilities, Government has a priority to better prison facilities and there is a budget for that. Already we are working with stake holders to ensure that all prison facilities are better.
Prisons can be organized to actively contribute to National Development. We are working on the peat extraction and last week we planted 50 hectares of Avocado in Nsinda prison in partnership with MINAGRI. We have targeted large scale production plus the physical infrastructure.
What does that kind of shift mean to the average citizen
It means that much as we are providing for effective execution of the court sentences, we shall at the same time offer a correctional regime which among others includes equipping inmates with life skills that will help them integrate after their sentence.
The correctional package will also address issues of re-offending and stigma.
Any other changes coming in
Yes, we want to turn prison around, where inmates actively contribute to their welfare and can actively compete on the job market outside, using the very skills they learnt in prison.
We are working on developing farms and we want to be the biggest partners of Ministry of Agriculture. We are thinking of organizing some form of formal education and we shall consult with Ministry of Education.
We have designed a program called “Help in security with Information” and this we shall work with the police. Ministry of information and media will help National Prisons Service in “awareness about prisons”.
So these broad action plans are meant to bring in a total overhaul of the system?
We are almost through with a review of the strategic plan and the action plan that corresponds with the financial period.
There are going to be no overhauls. We are going to build on what was in existence; but we shall for sure throw away bad practices if any come up! There are certain strategic priorities that have been mounted.
These are enshrined in the prisons law of 2006. Here, Management and stuff seek to promote justice through ethical and professional correctional practices while ensuring public safety and healthier communities for all.
In the same envelope, we shall equip the prisons officers with the professional skills which will enable them to match the standards expected in the prisons service. Prison management needs to operate within an ethical frame work.
So that is the brief given to you to oversee the development of the national prisons service?
Partly that is true.To develop a good National Prisons Service will require a totality of competencies not from me alone but from the team I work with, and from the positive attitude the inmates will develop in the process of serving their term and waiting for the court process.
The merger of TIG and Rwanda Prisons Service is being handled by the competent authorities and you will be informed.
What are the implications of Rwanda hosting prisoners from other countries such as Sierra Leone?
It is a commitment by Rwanda to assist the UN in all aspects of the humanitarian assistance. The RDF and the police are helping people in need under the UN and are doing very well.
In this case, Rwanda offered to host the said prisoners from Sierra Leone. It was a kind gesture well received by the UN and the government of Sierra Leone; in which officials from both come to Rwanda to inspect our facilities to ascertain whether the said facilities meet the international standards.
Both were fully satisfied with our facilities and a decision was therefore taken to bring the eight prisoners from Sierra Leone to serve their sentence here. I should say it is good.
Does that in itself mean that our facilities have met certain benchmarks and if so why is it that the ICTR inmates cannot be brought to serve here.
Everybody else seems to have taken note of the fact that our prison facilities meet the International standards, but as of ICTR you are asking me I don’t know.
That comes as a contradiction of sorts as the ICTR which is another UN arm does not really concur with that kind of endorsement
I think so, and I think people should come out open and discuss it.
The prisons have a sizable number of Genocide offenders. What is the way forward in terms of aligning your services with those of unity and reconciliation drives as Gacaca concludes.
Gacaca seems to be closing up and we are working together taking prisoners to attend Gacaca courts. Equally Unity and reconciliation programs are ongoing and the progress is impressive according to what I have so far seen.
We have reports about grisly incidences happening in the country side such as murder, rape and wife battering which seems to be happening within a given set pattern. What is your service doing to assist the entire security architecture to get to the bottom of the matter?
Society is a melting pot in which we have different characters. When they commit crimes and are later sentenced, they come to prisons, which is the fourth strand of the justice system.
Here we assist to ensure proper completion of sentences prescribed by courts, meanwhile ensuring security of inmates and the entire public. The program also involves ensuring that those who have finished their term do not re offend.
How would you react to complaints from ex-convicts regarding acts of abuse within the prisons?
I have not yet received such complaints but there is over all plans to ensure order and security in prisons.
Lets talk about how the rights of inmates can be centered around the new services being introduced.
The law establishing the National Prisons Services, the ministerial order with regard to prisons management and other laws and regulations in place including our strategic plan has a lot to better the lives of inmates.
Lastly tell us more about your production programs
We are almost through our business plan regarding production. We have had partnership with the ministry of agriculture in planting avocado, sweet bananas, soya beans and cassava.
We intend to grow rice on a large scale and later our plan is to engage in seed multiplication so that we sell to MINAGRI. Regarding food our strategy is to sell sufficient in terms of food and be able to assist government in case of poor harvest in any part of the country.
We have some cows and in that we want to increase production. We have started a peat extraction project with the Clinton Foundation and last week we got all necessary documents. We have a lot of land we want to put for use.