Established in 1934, Ngoma Prison in Ngoma District, Eastern Province, is one of the oldest prison facilities in the country.
The exclusively female prison is home to 1,084 prisoners with most of them (653) serving genocide-related sentences.
The facility is home to all categories of women with some serving their time with their children.
Once the children become three years, they are separated from their mothers and given to relatives.
The inmates here say they enjoy full rights as prisoners and some of them have access to formal education and vocational training, which they say will give them a better chance at life on the outside, once they complete their sentences.
For instance, 120 are undertaking handicraft training, 68 are in sewing, while 85 are learning to read and write.
They also get time to pray and entertainment.
“The vulnerable persons among us get special care, mostly elderly women, pregnant ones as well as those who come to prison with their children, they get a special diet, among other benefits,” said Happy Muhumuza, one of the prisoners.
The Minister for Justice and Attorney General, Johnston Busingye, Wednesday visited the prison to assess the situation and welfare of the inmates.
“We came to see how women prisoners live, how they are taken care of,” he said.
Minister Busingye speaks to a prisoner reading and revising her file ahead of a court appearance.
One of the main issues that affect women is that they receive very few visitors.
Busingye promised to follow up on the problem, alongside some others related to their families on the outside.
This is blamed to be a cause of psychological problems for the prisoners who find themselves abandoned by their families.
“When their children turn three, they join their families, but we have first see if the families are there and if they will continue the take care for the child,” he stated adding that they also have to make sure the child will be returned to the prison to visit their mother”, he added.
Rule of law
The minister said that they try to give women prisoners all their rights and needed help, but that nothing is done contrary to the law.
“The law is the law; I don’t change the law because they are women. We don’t do that, we cannot have double standards. If an offence is punishable by sentence x, that is it.
“There is a lot of work we can do, there are many things we can do, and you know very well that over the last couple of years the President has been pardoning people who attend class here and pass secondary school exams and high school exams,” he explained.
“That is one area we can continue to focus on. Because these people, we need to work with them; crime prevention starts from here, these people, in the end, will go back to communities, they should have leadership skills, they should advocate for crime prevention, and suppression of crime, they should do so many things,” he noted.
Beatrice Mukanyandwi, 35, is a mother of four who was convicted of drug abuse in 2017.
“I was sentenced for three years over marijuana, and for that, I left my family behind, I left my husband and now I have spent two years and two months of my sentence.
“I have remorse because I do not know how my husband and children are doing. When I get a chance to get out of here, I will avoid any kind of crime whatsoever,” she added.
Mukanyandwi today teaches handicraft class to other prisoners for free so they will get a decent living once they are out.
Despite having a good process of rehabilitation, the prisoners mentioned issues that are especially related to the families. Especially they fear that another woman could have taken her place or that their husbands might sell family properties without their consent.
Ngoma Prison is the largest of the two female prisons (Nyamagabe being the second). Nyarugenge, Muhanga and Musanze prisons accommodate men and women.
Women take 6.5 per cent of the total number of prisoners in Rwanda, with 4,720 out of 70,905 prisoners in the country. In April this year, 367 girls and women abortion convicts were given presidential pardons.
Under three-year-old children at an ECD inside the prison. Once they turn three, the children are handed to their respective families outside the prison.
Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Johnston Busingye.