Turning prisons into centres of production

Just moments after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, Rwanda’s prisons were left overcrowded. This was partly due to the thousands of individuals who were suspected of taking part in the killings which claimed over one million lives in a record space of about three months.
A prisoner at work inside Huye Prison carpentry workshop. The programme plays a great role in rehabilitating prisoners. The New Times/ JP Bucyensenge.
A prisoner at work inside Huye Prison carpentry workshop. The programme plays a great role in rehabilitating prisoners. The New Times/ JP Bucyensenge.

Just moments after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, Rwanda’s prisons were left overcrowded. This was partly due to the thousands of individuals who were suspected of taking part in the killings which claimed over one million lives in a record space of about three months.

As the country embarked on a journey of reconstruction and reconciliation, the justice machine was put into motion: some of the suspects were convicted while others were cleared of the charges and thus released.

The government also devised measures to try and decongest the prisons, through such initiatives as the  ‘Travaux d’Intérêts Généraux” or TIG, a programme that allows Genocide convicts to serve all or part of their sentences doing community service.

But, though decongesting prisons remained an issue to address, rehabilitating inmates and re-shaping them into a productive workforce-rather than a destructive force - remained a priority.

Efforts were then put on psychologically and intellectually rehabilitating convicts to make them responsible citizens, especially at a time when they eventually complete their punishment and return into the community. That way, they would become productive forces within their respective communities, thus contributing to their growth as well as to the national development.

There are currently about 55,000 inmates in Rwandan prisons, according to officials.

Income generating activities


A group of women wearing the regular bright pink prison uniforms and white T-shirts are exhibiting traditional dances to visitors inside Huye prison, located on the outskirts of Butare town in Huye district.

It is around 10am and that is a sign of hospitality to the visitors - one of the core values of Rwanda’s culture.

But, a few metres away, another group of inmates is busy at work: they are building a two-storey house which will serve as another dormitory block for prisoners incarcerated at the facility.

Likewise, other prisoners are busy working in crop plantations as well as craft workshops.

That is the mood in many prison facilities across the country: an image of prisoners who are not confined to their cells but rather are allowed to maximise their skills, knowledge and strengths to better their lives while at the same time contributing to the nation’s economy.

According to the Rwanda Correctional Services Commissioner General, Paul Rwarakabije, this is part of efforts to  transform prisons across the country into self-sustaining entities.

And, the inmates seem to have understood the core objective of the programme.

“We have developed. We have grown rice, banana and other crops,” the women dancers repeatedly sing.

Rwarakabije says involving prisoners in income generating activities is beneficial to the prisoners themselves, their facilities and the country as a whole.

According to the official, a part of the inmates’ production is used to supplement their diet.

Rwarajabije says, apart from contributing to the welfare of inmates, it is also a way of educating and helping them to become productive individuals upon completion of their sentences

“Remaining active helps them [inmates] acquire new skills which they can use to sustain their lives once they are released from jail,” Rwarakabije says.

“If, for instance, a prisoner is trained in carpentry and that they work in a workshop they are likely to increase their skills, something which will certainly benefit them once they are out. They can use the acquired skills to start their own workshops or seek employment,” he notes.

Convicts are mostly involved in agriculture, livestock farming, construction of houses, brick-making, carpentry and craft activities, among others.

Revenue generated helps boost the nation’s coffers.

Recently, the Rwanda Correctional Services signed performance contracts in a bid to improve efficiency and increase production.

According to Rwarakabije, the target is to raise at least Rwf1 billion from inmates’ activities – something he says is a significant contribution to the   economy.

“Without the programme, such a contribution would not be possible,” he says.

Inmates also benefit from their efforts as a tenth of the money generated goes back to them, officials at RCS say.

But apart from the income generating activities, prisoners are also offered lessons in various fields, including reading courses, languages lessons and religion. They also train  in craft making and do receive vocational training in a range of fields.

The programmes, which all aim at helping rehabilitate inmates and prepare them for re-intergration in society, allow them to earn hands on skills,  thus opening to them doors to a better life once out of prison.

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