Minister Busingye envisions reduced need for prisons in near future

Minister for Justice and Attorney General Johnston Busingye. / Courtesy
Minister for Justice and Attorney General Johnston Busingye. / Courtesy

Justice Minister Johnston Busingye is optimistic that Rwanda can follow the Netherlands’ ability to keep its crime rate so low and in so doing turn prisons into schools, hotels, stadia and homes for refugees, among others, in the near future.

It is reported that Dutch prisons are emptying fast with the number of prisoners in the Netherlands having fallen from 20,463 in 2006 to 10,102 in 2016.

Reflecting on a related tweet, on Saturday, Busingye sent an Easter message to heads of institutions in the justice sector, about his vision and how it can be achieved in a generation.

The justice sector brings together institutions whose mission converges on justice. They include the Judiciary, the National Public Prosecution Authority, Rwanda National Police, Rwanda Investigation Bureau, Rwanda Correctional Service, the Ombudsman, the National Commission for Human Rights, the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission, the Institute for Legal Practice and Development, the Rwanda Law Reform Commission a number of participating Civil Society Organisations and supporting Development Partners. 

The Ministry of Justice is the chair and coordinator of the sector while the Dutch Embassy is the co-chair.

In the text which Sunday Times obtained from one of the recipients, Busingye said: “I have a dream of this kind of situation. I dream that we can achieve it in this generation or, if we fail, in the next. I find that the seeds are already sown in our crime prevention portfolio, in our SWAP [sector wide approach], in our courage to do systems reengineering, in our community policing portfolio, in our youth against crime clubs, in our human security outreach activities, in our CSO [civil society organizations] and media engagement.”

“We need to frame our cross generational campaign on successfully achieving a culture of the rule of law and of massive citizen buy in into the idea that not committing crime pays, at the individual and collective level, far more than its opposite.”

Rwanda always achieves what it finds to be in her strategic interest and beneficial to the population, the Minister noted, adding that time and cost have never been impediments.

“If others have achieved it, we also can benchmark. Our formal and civic education, our community mobilisation, our CSO partnerships in research, surveys, and so on, should prioritise this.”

According to the Minister, people go to prison because they commit crime.

Commission of crime, he explained, is a deliberate option taken by a sane and sound person. If people commit no offences, on a massive scale, he said, “our societal brand of peace, security and safety will concretise and our prisons will be schools, hotels, stadia and homes for refugees in one generation.”

The country’s law enforcement apparatus, he noted, will change strategic focus altogether, to monitoring and evaluation of the quality of safety and security we enjoy.

He added: “I have a dream that those who remain hell bent on living off crime can be further isolated and narrowed to an insignificant fringe our criminal justice system can deal with very easily.”

“We will be formally sharing this dream at our various formal and informal fora so we can agree how it gets strengthened and what else our Champions should do.”

According to CIP Hillary Sengabo, the Rwanda Correctional Service (RCS) Spokesperson, the country has 13 prisons including a juvenile detention center located in Nyagatare District, all home to more than 65,000 inmates.

Alternative to incarceration

Addressing Senators earlier this week, Busingye said that though the number of people in the country’s correctional facilities has significantly reduced over years, Government was working on alternative ways of bringing those who commit crimes to justice without necessarily sending them to jail.

As part of a broader plan to reduce numbers of inmates, Busingye told the Senate, the Government will soon introduce electronic ankle monitors as an alternative to incarceration.

An electronic ankle monitor or bracelet is worn by a criminal who has been sentenced to house arrest, has been paroled or on probation and it transmits the wearer’s location to a monitoring system via GPS.

Any attempt to remove it triggers an alarm to law enforcement.


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