Senators in Rwanda have called for a change in the strategy government has been using to fix congestion in the country’s prisons, saying that focus and resources should be put into behavioral change to keep people out of jail other than expanding prison space.
Senator Cyprien Niyomugabo on Tuesday told the Upper House that while the government has intensified efforts to decongest correction facilities, it was time to look into a deterrent methods that will help reduce the number of people who end up in jail.
Senator George Mupenzi also said that while increasing the number of blocks in correctional facilities was an intermediate solution, it was not a sustainable one as Rwanda grapples with a challenge of prison overcrowding.
Adrien Umuhire told Senate that although improvements have been made in decongesting correctional facilities, overcrowding continues to be an issue that is taking a toll on the socio-economic fabric of the country.
Umuhire said that in the last couple of years, the number of inmates has been increasing steadily, rising from 99.6 per cent in 2014-2015 to 124.8 per cent in 2018-2019.
In its 2018/2019 annual report, the National Human Rights Commission said that in the last five years, the prisons that have high density comparing to their accommodation capacity include Rwamagana, Musanze, Gicumbi, Bugesera, Rusizi, Huye and Muhanga prisons. The report showed that there were about 65,000 inmates in Rwanda’s prisons located in different districts. About 28,000 of them are genocide convicts.
The commission said the high number of people in jails without going to court and for too long, high number of people kept at transit centers for too long and many pending cases, is another issue of major concerns in Rwandan prisons.
The prisons that were recorded with moderate population density include Nyanza, Ngoma, Nyagatare, Nyamagabe and Rubavu prisons. Nyarugenge prison used to have any problem of high density, but it was noted that the density is currently increasing.
The Senators’ reactions followed a discussion in which they heard that the government had moved to decongest facilities by building more blocks to create more breathing space for the inmates.
As a matter of fact, Rwamagana prison, which is commonly known as Nsinda, the Rwandan government built four blocks that can house up to 6,500 inmates from the 5,000 it accommodated before, but it remains overcrowded.
At Huye prison, three new blocks have been built with the capacity to house 4,500 inmates. Construction of another block that can house an extra 1,500 is ongoing.
In Nyarugenge’s Mageragere prison, three blocks with the capacity of housing 9,000 inmates have been built and another block that can house 1,500 inmates is in the pipeline.
The Rubavu District prison has three new blocks with the capacity to hold 5,500 inmates.
Last year, the Minister for Justice, Johnston Busingye, told a similar committee in the lower chamber that the government was focusing more on giving Rwandans who have found themselves on the wrong side of the law second chances instead of building more prisons.
At the time, Busingye explained that efforts were being put into reducing the time and the number of people in jail.
“Before the death penalty was scrapped, a lot of time and resources were put into campaigns to explain the decision to the masses and it worked. We should channel the same resources into teaching our communities about the law other than building more facilities” Senator George Mupenzi said.