What is the solution to Rwanda’s prisons overcrowded at 174%?

On 24 November 2022 at 10:36

A probe carried out by Transparency International Rwanda (TIR) indicates that overcrowding continues to rise in Rwanda’s prisons where it currently stands at 174%.

Generally, over 84,000 people are detained in Rwanda’s prisons. Of these, 12,000 are remanded excluding suspects detained at Police stations as per findings by TIR released in May 2022.

The main objective was to assess the application of other alternative measures to imprisonment.

The probe followed another conducted by the Commission for Human Rights in 2019/2020 which indicated that overpopulation in Rwanda’s prisons stood at 136%.

Speaking to BBC towards the end of last week, the Executive Secretary of TIR, Apollinaire Mupiganyi said that overcrowding in prisons results from, among other reasons, the incarceration of individuals suspected of minor crimes yet there are other alternative punishments under Rwanda’s penal code that should be applied.

“The conducted survey indicated a sharp increase from the previous statistics released by Human Rights Commission. This stresses the need for quick action. It is apparent that challenges still exist. Security organs mandated to carry out investigations, even the judiciary rush to opt for imprisonment instead of other 12 alternatives that should be applied to make prison the last choice,” he said.

Mupiganyi explained that there are crimes requiring imprisonment but pointed out other available options like fines, house arrest, introducing electronic ankle monitors, mediation, and amnesty among others.

“The other 12 alternatives are applied at a very low percentage hence resulting into a sharp increase of detainees,” he said.

The Spokesperson of the National Public Prosecution (NPPA), Faustin Nkusi, explained that criminals increase overtime where there are emerging crimes including cybercrimes and human trafficking among others going hand in hand with fast development.

In the year 2021/2022, the Prosecution received 83,349 dossiers involving 106,554 suspects.

Of these, 43,645 dossiers were filed to courts while 39,211 suspects were released without undergoing trial.

The President of Rwanda Bar Association, Lawyer Moise Nkundabarashi said that overpopulation in Rwanda’s prisons can be reduced by 97,38% in case the other alternatives for imprisonment are applied.

He explained that some cases can last for three years due to a large number of people seeking justice. To this end, Nkundabarashi disclosed that an individual acquitted after spending three years in jail hardly copes with related effects.

“It is our option that suspects should be tried without detention but it requires much effort to educate people that trying a suspect being out of prison does not mean the case is ignored. We have different examples where the Prosecution did the same and filed lawsuits against individuals out of jail who faced justice and taken into prison after courts’ verdicts,” affirmed Nkundabarashi.

The Judicial Spokesperson, Harrison Mutabazi said that more than 40,000 criminal cases were taken to court during last year’s judicial year.

The number excludes civil, commercial, administrative and labour court cases.

“The number is an addition to the backlog of court cases accumulated in the previous years,” he noted.

Mutabazi explained that judges try to balance all punishments as provided by law but the situation is exacerbated by backlogs and the shortage of courts’ employees.

Promising efforts

As for civil and commercial cases, a mediation policy was introduced in Rwanda. Rwandans are encouraged to opt for this method as it is believed to be efficient and fast in conflicts’ resolution.

Besides, Rwanda introduced plea bargaining procedure, on 11th October 2022, to adjudicate on criminal cases.

A plea bargain is any agreement in a criminal case between the prosecutor and the defendant where the latter agrees to plead guilty to a particular charge in return for a lenient sentence.

This may mean that the defendant will plead guilty to a less serious charge, or one of the several charges, in return for the dismissal of other charges. It may also mean that the defendant will plead guilty to the original criminal charge in return for a more lenient sentence.

Plea bargaining is provided by the Law regarding criminal cases. The Article 26 of the Law stipulates that; at the end of the suspect’s interrogation, the prosecutor may propose a plea bargaining agreement whereby the suspect helps the prosecutor to obtain all the necessary information in the prosecution of the offence and to know other persons involved in the commission of the offence and in return of some benefits but without hindering good administration of justice.

The prosecutor undertakes to make concessions to the suspect in relation to charges against him or her and the penalties that he or she may request.

During investigations, a suspect who enters into plea bargaining with the prosecution may be prosecuted while free.

Plea bargaining does not prevent the victim of the offence from getting information on the prosecution file and from contributing to the explanation on the commission of the offence.

The article 26 of the same Law stipulates that, in case of an agreement of plea bargaining, the public prosecution charges the suspect as agreed on by both parties.
The court may admit or reject an agreement of plea bargaining but cannot alter the agreement.

In case the agreement is admitted, the court, while taking a decision, considers the agreement on plea bargaining concluded between the public prosecution and the accused.

Nkusi explained that the process is more advantageous as it paves the way for lenient punishments, prosecuting suspects while free, suspending a punishment and slapping them with fines among others.