Five courts in the City of Kigali will this week pilot a new model Rwanda has taken to replace a jail sentence with other forms of punishment for convicted felons, according to the Judiciary.
The new out of court “mediation” model will be tried out in the primary courts of Gasabo, Kicukiro, Nyarugenge, and the Intermediate courts of Gasabo and Nyarugenge which are also expected to handle cases that would normally go to court.
These include criminal cases, financial and family related disputes of which the Chief Justice, Dr. Faustin Nteziryayo said: “It is possible to use mediation in criminal cases based on the mediation practices embedded in culture and its impact in resolving conflict”.
However the Chief Justice explained that the process will only be validated by the consent of two parties (accused and accuser) involved in a dispute, who will have to first consent on the procedure as a means of resolving their conflict.
This new model comes after Senate recommends the government to embrace a rapid implementation on planned options of alternative jail sentences.
The suggested alternative according to government included community service, release on parole and out of court settlements among the top directions discussed in Parliament.
Parliament’s push is backed by figures reviewed in its reports indicating that despite government efforts to build new and rehabilitate prison facilities, the decline in congestion has been meager and thus calling for another sustainable alternative.
A Senate report on state of prison congestion shows that of the 57, 482 inmates in the 14 prisons in Rwanda there has been a steady annual increase in congestion since 2015 at 99.6%, 2016 -66.9%, 2017- 102%, in 2018 at 114.6% and 124.8% in 2019.
A sample taken on eight prisons showed increased congestion in percentage above the capacity. For instance Rwamagana district prison had 256%, Gicumbi 173%, Musanze 155%, Bugesera 138%, Rusizi 136%, Huye 124%, Nyarugenge 119% and Muhanga 118%.
The inmates are mostly in jail as a result of committing the top ten crimes in Rwanda, which include, drug abuse, assault, theft child abuse among others.
The National Prosecution Office said Monday, during the launch of the Judicial Week that the new model will be tried out on 40 initial pilot cases and is part of a long process that Rwanda has been taking to reduce number of court cases and inmates congestion in jail facilities across the country.
Rwanda Bar Association president, Julien Gustave Kavaruganda told the local press that the new direction will also enable lawyers to get more clients.
The judiciary is expected to evaluate the progress of this methodology after the Judicial Week, and results of this new procedure which if are positive could be an additional step in solving government concerns over the need to create space in prisons.
The mediation approach is not new to Rwanda as it is currently being used in community based justice practices where cases that are worth below Rwf5million, interpersonal conflicts are handled by mediation courts.