The Government has embarked on a long term plan to decongest its correctional facilities by focusing more on rehabilitation.
Briefing the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Unity, Human Rights and the fight against Genocide on issues raised by the National Human Rights Commission this week, the Minister for Justice; Johnston Busingye,said the government was focusing more on giving Rwandans who have found themselves on the wrong side of the law second chances instead of building more prisons.
“We don’t run prisons, we run correctional facilities. As part of our plan to fight the congestion issue, we are working on reducing the time people spend in jail. The law stipulates that depending on the crime and sentence, someone can be released either after they serve half their sentence or three quarters of it,” he said.
Busingye told the lawmakers that there was a push for the Rwanda Correctional Services (RCS) to concentrate more on promoting a change in attitude and mindset through providing the appropriate rehabilitation required to reintegrate former inmates into society.
“We have tasked RCS to come up with a strategy that can support our plan and we hope that it not only helps us to enforce the law but also rehabilitate those who have found themselves on the other side of the law. If there is need for skills or therapy to address personal or family issues, RCS should be able to fix that,” he said.
For an inmate to be paroled, RCS officials are required to write to the Ministry of Justice explaining in detail what they have done to correct the inmate and why he or she is ready to be reintegrated into society.
In 2014, 182 people were released on parole. In 2016, they were 808, in 2018 the number rose to 3,273.
“We have on several occasions written to the President who has pardoned some people, especially the youth, who continued their education and passed, granting them a second chance,” he said.
Besides releasing inmates on bail, Busingye explained that one other way the government is dealing with the issue of congestion is renovating and expanding the correctional facilities that already exist.
For instance, in Rwamagana district, the government has built four blocks that can house up to 6,500 inmates instead of the 5,000 it was holding before.
In Huye district, three new blocks have been built with the capacity to house 4,500 inmates. Construction of another block that can house an extra 1,500 is ongoing.
In Nyarugenge district, three blocks with the capacity of housing 9,000 inmates has been built and another block that can house 1,500 inmates is in the pipeline.
The Rubavu district prison has three new blocks with the capacity to hold 5,500 inmates.
Renovation of old facilities
Six prisons were renovated and given the boost they need to accomodate more people, particularly those built more than three decades ago.
For instance, Gicumbi Prison was built in 1931 and the maximum it could hold was at about 1,500. After renovation and expansion, it can now hold 3,000.
Musanze prison was built in 1935 and its capacity was not more than 1,500 and it now holds 2,000.
Bugesera prison was built 1975 and it was supposed to be a rehabilitation center that was meant to only receive 700 people for a short time but today, it is a prison that holds 3,000 people.
Muhanga Prison was built in 1973. After it was gutted by fire in 2014, it was renovated and expanded and can now house 4,000 inmates compared to the maximum 2,500 that it previously did.
Ngoma Prison’s capacity was 1,500 and after renovation and expansion, it can now house 2000. It was changed into a women only prison. Rusizi district was built in 1972 with a capacity of holding not more than 1,000 people but today, it holds 3,500.
MPs weigh in
MP WinifridaMpembyemungu suggested the need to follow up on the students who were pardoned after they excelled in their examinations while incarcerated.
“I would like to suggest that the teenagers who are pardoned after they pass their examinations are followed up after they are released. I suggest that a survey is conducted to find out how they are doing and to know if they actually continued with their education,” she said.