Prime Minister Anastase Murekezi yesterday opened the fourth biennial conference of African Correctional Services Association (ACSA), in Kigali urging prisons chiefs to involve inmates in income generating activities.
This year’s ACSA Conference runs under the theme, “Building a Professional Correctional System in Africa: A Strategic Objective.”
Murekezi said ACSA’s mission and vision are very relevant to the entire African continent as the association seeks to transform and harmonise strategies of penal institutions in Africa towards a collective and homogeneous development of prisons.
“This is in line with the rebuilding of the self-reliance and dignity that we Africans are determined to achieve. It is also in line with the United Nations best practices that have to be aligned to our local context,” Murekezi said in his opening remarks.
He noted today’s challenges that are found in almost all African Correctional services, especially budget constraints and lack of enough qualified staff, that hinders the achievement of ACSA mission.
“To overcome these challenges, all African countries and the private sector as well as the civil society have the mandate to closely support ACSA. To top up the budget that Governments allocate to it, ACSA is advised to cooperate with Governments to turn prisons into centers of production,” the premier said.
“I would like to remind you all that involving prisoners in income generating activities is beneficial to the prisoners themselves, their correctional facilities and their countries.”
The premier urged participants to take full advantage of the five day conference to foster deeper international cooperation among ACSA member states and its partners.
He added that the recommendations of the conference will be key to ensuring that African correctional services are more professional, more productive and contribute better to wealth creation.
He said the Rwandan government, in its efforts to improve the professional standards of Rwanda Correctional Service, has embarked on a significant infrastructure development programme.
Highlighting topics to be discussed during the conference, Uganda’s Commissioner-General of Prisons and chair of ACSA, Johnson Byabashaija, said African correctional facilities have “very dangerous prisoners” where some of them are convicted of terrorism activities.
“This is a group we must handle carefully. This is a group which is not afraid of death as they can do anything. We must have guidance, rules that are going to handle people suspected of terrorism,” Byabashaija said.
“Secondly, most prisons in Africa are congested, but you noted that I praised Rwanda for having 5 per cent free space. Maybe I will ask RCS Commissioner-General Rwigamba to rent it,” he joked, noting how Netherlands is helping Belgium buy renting space in Dutch prisons.
Byabashaija said on the agenda is the matter of pre-trial detainees, citing Uganda where they have 51.7 per cent, Tanzania about 50 per cent, Kenya about 43 per cent, while Rwanda has 6.3 per cent, emphasising that African prison chiefs will learn more on Rwanda justice system.
He said African prisons have made “incredible advances” as they score “very good human right record” compared to some of the correctional facilities he visited in different developed countries in Europe and America.