Its relevance was approved by the Chamber of Deputies on Friday, October 8, 2021, and the next step is to be scrutinised by a responsible parliamentary committee. The new bill is part of the efforts to review the correctional system by integrating education in the convicts’ rehabilitation process.
It aims to make inmates more productive, according to Amb. Solina Nyirahabimana, the Minister of State in Charge of Constitutional and Legal Affairs in the Ministry of Justice.
The draft law provides that the institution in charge of correctional services establishes a programme to empower convicts with appropriate skills and knowledge for self-sustainability and help them to become law-abiding citizens.
The bill has proposed the integration of new terminologies matching with the correctional service in general, whereby some will be replaced by the terms reflecting the policy of correction.
Examples of terminology changes include prison to be replaced by the correctional facility, prisoner by convict, and prison guard by correctional officer.
Talking about education programme, the bill proposes that the institution in charge of correctional services puts in place strategies and programmes for literacy of convicts.
The institution also establishes an educational programme in reference to the government programme for the education of incarcerated persons at primary, secondary and university level (for general education) and technical and vocational education training (TVET), according to the bill.
MPs raise concerns
MP Leonard Ndagijimana said that it was fine for the convicts to get skills in TEVT, but expressed worry over university education as it might make people indulge in crimes.
“People might commit crimes knowing that they will serve imprisonment terms say for five years, be able to complete university studies by the time of their release, get degrees and apply,” he said, urging caution to ensure that this move does not cause the proliferation of crimes in the country.
MP John Rukurwabyoma said that making prisons more conducive for living than the outside world, would result in people committing crimes intentionally in a bid to be jailed to access services such as education, and welfare.
“We should balance to ensure that we provide good services in prison, but in a way that they are not better than those outside jail,” he said. Nyirahabimana pointed out that there should be caution such that the services that the convicts receive do not make them forget they are criminal.
According to the explanatory note of the bill, in Rwanda, the matters related to the institutional framework of Rwanda correctional services and the management of prisons are under the same law n° 34/2010 of 12/11/2010 on the establishment, functioning and organisation of Rwanda Correctional Service (RCS), as amended to date.
Focus on restorative justice
MP Justine Mukobwa said that, so far, there have been convicts who had to serve life sentences in prison because of the gravity of the crimes they were convicted of, wondering why the Government wants to focus on correctional service.
“Correctional service was being done, but those convicts who have to be imprisoned, including those sentenced to life in prison, had to serve their sentences. How will that be done now that the Government roots for correctional service,” she wondered.
Nyirahabimana said that opting for punitive justice only– consisting mainly of prisons and punishment – can lead to convicts being more violent by the time of their release as a result of bitter experiences they went through, and recidivism (relapse into criminal behaviour) when reintegrated in society.
She said over 50 per cent of the convicts in the country are less than 40 years old, meaning that they are expected to be released after completing their terms.
“This is in line with the new penalty policy. Punishment is a principle, but, how do we punish them [convicts] so that when they are released [upon completion of their sentences], they would not relapse into crimes, or become harmful to the communities into which they have been integrated,” she pointed out.
“This is a political choice to help the convicts to become decent citizens,” she said, underscoring the need for restorative justice.
The 2010 law took for the first time a new perspective of correctional service focusing on rehabilitation of a convict for becoming a law-abiding citizen, who is also trained to acquire skills in a profession which will empower him or her and prevent him or her from committing crimes once again.
However, Nyirahabimana told parliamentarians that this new concept of correction has not been able to be properly incorporated into the current law governing Rwanda Correctional Service (RCS) and programmes, and services related to corrections have also not been able to be sufficiently incorporated into the law.
This special draft law on correctional service does not contain the management and functioning of RCS, because they are part of another stand-alone bill which is also at Parliament for scrutiny.