Rwanda’s penal system has undergone quite remarkable changes in the last few years. The one that stands out above the rest is the iconic Kigali Central Prison dubbed “1930” after the year it was opened.
The old red-bricked building has been emptied of its tenants, the same as Remera Prison whose inmates were all relocated to the newly constructed Nyarugenge Prison in Mageragere.
All the changes come at the back of the construction of Nyanza Prison which was built according to international standards so as to be able to receive international prisons and extradited Rwandans. At the last count, it hosted eight Sierra Leoneans convicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone, an international human rights tribunal.
So, one of the new reforms being introduced – according to the Ministry of Justice – is focusing more on rehabilitation other than incarceration. It is in that vein that they want to introduce half-way houses, where inmates approaching release are accommodated in a controlled environment as they prepare themselves to reintegrate society.
Those on probation will also have to be equipped with electronic ankle bracelets to monitor their every move. That way, they will relieve pressure on the prison system which has not had a moment of respite in the last quarter-century.
In fact, the prison system wants prisoners to access education, up to the highest level, so that when they get out they will be equipped with life skills, and hopefully, reduce repeat offenders.
That is quite a tall order indeed, but it is worth all the penny. Prison should not be a place where we hide society’s misfits from the eyes of the public, it should be a correctional institute, a place where prisoners are given a second chance.