Senators have highly recommended that the government moves to implement a Presidential order allowing works of community interest as an option of serving a prison sentence, as a solution towards decongesting some of the Rwanda Correctional Service (RCS) facilities across the country.
The recommendation comes despite challenges presented by the line ministry, regarding the infrastructure and logistics required to see convicts given other alternative forms of service to replace serving time in jail, mainly stemming from the required technology and resources needed.
The Presidential order determining modalities for the execution of the penalty of community service was approved by cabinet in November 2019 but a senate review of the state of congestion in prisons showed this process has taken too long to materialize despite the urgent need to address the 10% increment in prison occupancy figures.
The Senate Committee on Social Affairs and Human Rights on Tuesday tabled figures showing that despite government efforts to build new and rehabilitate prisoner holding facilities, the decline in congestion has been meager and thus calling for another sustainable alternative.
For instance, the report showed that of the 57, 482 inmates in the 14 prisons in Rwanda there has been a steady increase in congestion since 2015 at 99.6%, 2016 -66.9%, 2017- 102%, 2018- 114.6%, and 124.8% in 2019 mostly as a result of the top ten crimes which include, drug abuse, assault, theft child abuse among others.
For example in the eight district visited the Senate report (2018/19) showed Rwamagana district had 256%, Gicumbi 173%, Musanze 155%, Bugesera 138%, Rusizi 136%, Huye 124%, Nyarugenge 119% and Muhanga 118%.
Senator Adrie Umuhire, Chairperson of the Committee on Social Affairs and Human Rights said this scenario was partly addressed by expansion works in some of the facilities and during the assessment, figures showed there was progress in addressing the issue of space in prisons.
She showed facilities could handle more inmates, for example – Rwamagana now has 6,500 capacity from 5,000 inmates; Huye from 5,500 to 9,000; Muhanga moved from 3,500 to 4,000; Gicumbi from 1,500 to 3,000; Ngoma 1,500- 2,000; Rusizi from 1,000 to 3,500; Musanze 1,500- 2,000, Bugesera from rehab center of 700 persons upgraded to full prison status to handle 3,000 inmates.
While the newly constructed Mageragere prison in Nyarugenge district has capacity of 9,000 and will get soon add one new structure to accommodate more 1,500 inmates and Rubavu prison rehabilitated to take in 5,500 inmates.
Senator Umuhire stated that this has also been followed by efforts and plans to implement the Presidential provisional release orders. A total of 3,647 convicts have been released this year on grounds of good conduct.
Other measures, Umuhire said, was implementing the Ministerial order with a provision to prosecute suspected criminals outside jail, release on parole, setting up transitional community integration centers for inmates bound to complete their jail terms and campaigns to curb crimes.
Senators were concerned that while the government has put efforts in constructing new facilities, creating a 6.2% increase in space for inmates, a sustainable solution in lowering these numbers of inmates was in implementing the approved presidential and a ministerial order.
“What is missing so as to implement this Presidential order? Why all this delay and no explanation yet numbers of inmates keep increasing? Is this negligence?” Senator Juvenal Nkusi asked.
Other Senators also wondered why Rwanda has not started implementing the use of technology in monitoring persons released on parole as a global practice used to reduce numbers of persons sent to jails.
Committee chairperson Umuhire replied that the Ministry of Justice encountered challenges in implementation of works of community interest as a result of the proposed implementing authority, RCS, lacked a mandate to implement the order, thus the need to revise the Ministerial Order determining its establishment, to cater for that.
“Yes, we talked with government officials on this matter for some time but it is our duty to push, despite these challenges” said Senator Fulgence Nsengiyumva.
On the planned parole release, Sen. Umuhire said the Judiciary is still training staff on the new technology to be used but this was one of the areas that need community education to change current mindsets on prison sentences as the only way of punishing criminals.
Sen. Lambert Dushimimana said the fact that the National Human Rights Commission indicates issues of prison congestion every year should be reason to push for rapid implementation on planned options and the next thing will be educating the community to understand new forms of sentences.
In response, the committee revealed that one of the workable solutions is placing the soon-to be-released inmates in a special center to be constructed at Muhazi, Rwamagana district, with a first intake of 2,500 beneficiaries, under an already signed agreement with an international organization- Dignity in Detention.
However, Senate Vice President, Alvera Mukabaramba said that besides the social impact assessed, the Senate needs to do an economic assessment of the impact of congested prisons.
Mukabaramba argues that congestion is seen in numbers but not economically yet direct impact is in government expenditure to provide for the inmates, something which needs a lasting solution.
“The plan of not sending people to prison by giving them alternative sentences is what we see as something that will help us economically because even those sent to holding centers will still need to be fed and taken care of by the government, which makes no difference,” Mukabaramba said.
With this argument most senators backed the need to educate Rwandans on prevention of crime and reduce the rates of incarceration as another alternative to address prison congestion.
Rwanda is ranked 10th among countries with the highest incarceration rates according to 2018 World Prison Brief (WPB), an online database hosted by the Institute for Criminal Policy Research at the University of London.