The proposed provision by the government of Rwanda to provide university education to convicts incarcerated in penitentiary institutions in the country will make them more productive and help to curb recidivism, education and human rights experts have argued.
This proposal is contained in a corrections bill whose relevance was approved by the Chamber of Deputies last year on October 8. From now on, it is examined by a competent parliamentary committee before being submitted to the vote in plenary session.
According to the Ministry of Justice, the bill is part of efforts to overhaul the country’s prison system by integrating education into the rehabilitation of convicts
The bill provides for the institution in charge of correctional services to establish a program to equip convicts with the appropriate skills and knowledge for self-reliance and to help them become law-abiding citizens.
According to the draft law, the establishment in charge of correctional services establishes an educational program with reference to the government program for the education of incarcerated persons at the primary, secondary and university levels (for general education) and technical and vocational training (TVET).
Benson Rukabu, national coordinator of the Rwanda Education for All Coalition (REFAC) – a grassroots civil society organization that advocates for quality education for all citizens – told The New Times that convicts should have the right to education and that having intellectuals is a source of wealth for the country.
He noted that correctional institutions should have the necessary tools to effectively deliver university education, stressing that the implementation of this program will require an adequate budget.
He said that this decision could help the convicts to acquire knowledge which in turn could contribute to the development of the country and to become law-abiding citizens, as they would also get a change in behavior as the level of education matters. in understanding correctional services.
“Lack of knowledge is a major concern for the community. There was a problem where convicts could spend a lot of time in prison,” he said, pointing out that some convicts had dropped out of school but could not. continue their university studies in correctional institutions because the current situation did not allow it.
Ensuring successful reintegration
François Ngabo, a doctoral candidate in comparative education, said convicts can acquire university-level knowledge and skills while incarcerated, and be able to join efforts with other members of the community to contribute to the development of the country. once reinstated.
“It can be a major development to have a college education in correctional facilities,” he said.
Referring to examples from the United States, he said the offer of higher education in prison allows convicts to see many opportunities open to them, so that they can have a profession that can deter them. to commit crimes again.
“It can make them fear jail because they’ve realized there are profitable things they can do,” he said, adding that learning skills could improve mindset. business among convicts and their chances of finding employment.
According to a memoir titled “Higher Education Behind Bars; The Expansion of Post-Secondary Education Programs in New England [of USA] Prisons and Jails,” federally, those with less than a high school education reoffended (reoffended) at a 60% rate, while formerly incarcerated individuals with some college experience reoffended at a much higher rate. low of 19.1%.
The note was prepared by Sheridan Miller, state policy engagement coordinator at the New England Board of Higher Education.
Meanwhile, Ngabo said “there should be adequate specifications for academics who will be teaching in correctional facilities once the bill is passed so that we can be sure convicts are in productive courses,” said he said, suggesting that courts should take into account the special needs of convicts for better results.
Professor Eugène Rutembesa, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Dignity in Detention (DIDE Rwanda) said providing university-level studies to convicts in correctional facilities can help ensure their successful reintegration into their communities.
“It’s a commendable decision. A person is imprisoned because of a crime, but that does not mean that they are not a human being. And, they will eventually be reintegrated into the community. If they obtain the right to an education when she is in prison is something worth appreciating,” he said.
“It can reduce stress and many problems faced by convicts because they feel worthy. Nothing can be as important [to the convicts] while the government sees them as people who are equally entitled to benefits like those provided to other citizens in the community,” he said.
According to a 2020/2021 report by the National Human Rights Commission, the number of detainees in Rwanda’s 14 correctional facilities has continued its upward trend over the past four years, rising from 58,230 in 2017 to 76. 099 in 2021, an increase of 30.6 percent.
In addition, the report found that congestion in correctional facilities remained high on average – at 124.1%.
While explaining the relevance of the aforementioned bill to lawmakers October 8, 2021 Amb. Solina Nyirahabimana, minister of state for constitutional and legal affairs in the justice ministry, said the development aims to make inmates more productive.
She pointed out that 50% of convicts in the country are under the age of 40, which means they should be released after serving their sentence.
“This is in line with the new sanctions policy. Punishment is a principle, but how we punish them is important. [convicts] so that when released [upon completion of their sentences]they would not relapse into crimes or become harmful to the communities in which they were embedded,” she observed, emphasizing the need for a restorative approach to justice.