KIGALI - Legal experts from the Commonwealth are in Kigali to discuss alternative sentencing and overcrowding in prisons.
Justice Minister Tharcisse Karugarama explained at the opening of the conference, yesterday, that Rwanda adopted alternative sentences to reduce the number of inmates suspected of taking part in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi who were crammed in prisons.
The minister noted that in 1995, the country had the highest number of prisoners in East Africa., adding that adopting alternative sentences helped in reducing the number.
“We had over two hundred thousand detainees after the Genocide, but after establishing alternative sentences like community work, there was a massive release of people to serve in community work. These sentences have become a cornerstone of the judicial system in Rwanda,” he said.
“This policy paid heavy dividends to our country. We have seen it working in Rwanda, what we can give is testimonies. You should implement it in your countries”, he advised.
Karugarama observed that by 2015 the country will have the least number of inmates in the region.
In an exclusive interview, Rob Allen, a specialist from Penal Reform International in London acknowledged that the problem of many inmates still affects the African continent saying that strategies are needed to decongest prisons.
“The African continent has most detainees in the world. There is need to implement proper systems of reducing the overcrowding. Sentencing a convict to a prison term is not the only punishment.
Other alternatives can be used. It even reduces the costs of the government’s expenditure.”
He added that United Kingdom had to adopt the same alternatives to reduce overcrowding of the prisons.
According to international research, the more years someone spends in prison, the more he becomes a threat to the world.
Judge Sir David Carruthers, chairman of New Zealand Parole Board, commended Rwanda reconciliation systems adding the participants of the three-day workshop will benefit from Rwanda’s experience.
“As a judge, I want to hear from the experience from different countries. In his speech minister Karugarama talked of reconciliation systems that Rwanda uses. I’m sure it’s a good initiative that can be used in other countries”, he said.
Assistant Police Commissioner of Tanzania, Nsalo Marijana, said that regional countries need to adopt indigenous methods instead of depending on outdated colonial systems.
The participants will today visit Kinyinya in Gasabo District to observe how prisoners participate in community work before they resume their debate.