Overcrowding in Rwanda’s prisons increases by 11.7%

By Esther Muhozi
On 17 November 2023 at 11:36

The National Commission for Human Rights disclosed that its recent assessment across 14 prisons nationwide revealed an 11.7% increase in overcrowding compared to the previous year.

Presented on November 16, 2023, as part of the activities report for 2022/2023 and projections for 2023/2024 to both parliamentary chambers, the commission’s assessment highlighted that several prisons exceeded their capacity, with some experiencing overcrowding rates surpassing 215%.

Musanze emerged as the most overcrowded prison at 215%, accommodating 4964 inmates against its normal capacity of 2300. Gicumbi prison followed closely with a rate of 198.9%, housing 3978 prisoners instead of its 2000-person capacity. Muhanga Prison, with 7228 inmates compared to a capacity of 4200, had an overcrowding rate of 172%.

Among others, Rusizi Prison reported 3820 inmates against a capacity of 2500, resulting in a 152.8% overcrowding rate. Rwamagana Prison had a rate of 151.3%, hosting 18,472 inmates against its normal capacity of 12,204. Nyarugenge Prison, Huye Prison, and Rubavu reported overcrowding rates of 147.6%, 146%, and 130%, respectively. Nyamagabe had the lowest overcrowding rate at 56%.

Overall, the overcrowding in the 14 prisons in Rwanda reached 140.7% in 2022/2023, up from 129% in the previous year. The inspection revealed a total of 86,274 incarcerated individuals, exceeding the prisons’ built capacity of 61300. Notably, 10,994 were on provisional detention, and 156 remained in prison after the provisional detention period expired.

Parliamentarian Veneranda Nirahirwa expressed concern over the repetitive nature of overcrowding reports, emphasizing the need for tangible solutions. Despite promises of addressing the issue, she noted an annual increase, rising from 124% in 2022 to over 140% in the current year.

Nirahirwa highlighted a shortage of meals in detention facilities near courts due to suspects from other cells coming to eat while awaiting trial. The inspection covered 100 detention facilities across the country, revealing 5543 detainees, including 4875 men and 506 women.

Rwanda Correctional Service (RCS) figures from May to October 2023 indicated that 13 prisons received over 13,000 new inmates, averaging at least 2000 imprisonments monthly. The Chairperson of the National Commission for Human Rights, Providence Umurungi, pointed out initiatives like ’plea bargaining’ to reduce overcrowding, expressing optimism for improvement within two years.

Umurungi also cited a high number of cases in courts compared to the available judges as a contributing factor to overcrowding. During the inspection, it was revealed that 2438 cases had exceeded the six-month to one-year trial period. RCS Spokesperson SP Daniel Rafiki noted that measures, including plea agreements, resulted in the release of 12,891 individuals within six months. In October, Rwandan courts completed 923 cases through plea agreements and handled 204 cases with arbitration assistance.

Overcrowding in Rwanda’s prisons increased by 11.7%.