In April, this year, a friend, who is a senior journalist in one of the biggest media houses in the United Kingdom, was in the country as Rwandans prepared to commemorate 20 years after the Genocide against the Tutsi.
He was, however, not just on an ordinary assignment like the hundreds of foreign journalists that descended on Kigali around the same time. For him, it was an emotional return to a country he last covered in 1994, fresh from the horrors of genocide, with streets strewn with dead bodies, and the country on its knees.
One of the places he was keen to visit was the Kigali Central Prison, also referred to as ‘1930’.
The last time he had visited the place, going by the video clips he had with him of 20 years back, the facility was drenched in filth, children lumped therein because they had to stay with their parents, while others were juveniles who had participated in the Genocide.
He did visit ‘1930’ briefly and even as he could not go beyond the compound, what he saw, and when you juxtapose the images taken there 20 years ago and now, the difference is unimaginable.
Inmates he managed to see from outside were leisurely playing basketball on a decent court inside the premises, while the environment around the place is worlds apart from the one he saw in1994.
This is not unique to the correctional facility. It is the same story at all the ‘prisons’ countrywide, partly a reflection of Rwanda’s transition from the penal to correctional system.
However, despite this milestone, I think Rwanda Correctional Services is getting it wrong in the keeping a lid on the few cases of prison breaks that have occurred over the past few years – as indicated in a story published in this newspaper yesterday.
The recent case of the man who is believed to have escaped from prison in the Southern Province only to wipe out an innocent family that had taken him in is a rude reminder of how dangerous escapees from jail can be to the public.
Similar incidents have previously taken place with the most prominent being the escape last year of five people from the Karubanda Prison in Huye town, whose identities the public never got to know.
The world over, even from the most fortified prisons, we have for years heard of prison breaks and this is by no means indicative of the inefficiency of the prisons’ authorities. Inmates today are as sophisticated as the rest of society and once in a while can beat even the most sophisticated security and escape.
But the smartest and honourable thing for correctional authorities to do is to inform the public of any inmate that has escaped, and to do so timely, to ensure the public is aware of the presence of such characters in their midst. This would not only lead to their re-arrest but would also prevent crimes that these escapees may commit in the process.
For instance, the photos of escapees can be published in the media so the public can be on the lookout and help in efforts to re-arrest them.
Rwandans have proven they are more than willing to cooperate in this regard, at least going by the success of the community policing programme.
As such, Rwanda Correctional Services should act swiftly to make public the identities of those that have escaped from jail if the prisons authorities are to get the full support of the public which they badly need in such circumstances; but also not to endanger people’s lives.
Needless to say, the correctional approach of handling convicted criminals could go a long way in averting such unnecessary prison breaks.
Once inmates get to understand that their incarceration is not to punish them, but rather a means to rehabilitate them and make them more responsible members of society (upon completion of their sentences), they will opt to cooperate and quietly serve their time. END
The writer is an editor at The New Times Publications Ltd