The challenge of the social reintegration of former prisoners in Rwanda

By The Rwandan Analyst


The prison administration is not solely responsible for the custody of detainees. It must also prevent recidivism and contribute to the integration or reintegration of people entrusted to it by the judicial authority. This mission is particularly the responsibility of the integration and probation prison services. No one disputes the need to provide social support to those leaving prison to prevent recidivism, but the discussion revolves around the conditions for its implementation. Indeed, the principle of access for persons placed under the control of justice to common law mechanisms is now always affirmed in the texts. But in reality, in Rwanda, the elders are reintegrating into the population like a fish in the water without monitoring and without structures that would be in charge of social action and State services, which would then have the responsibility of social exclusion and care for released people who often remain in “gray areas”.

Under these conditions, it is difficult to set up the right follow-up at the right time. Social support is rarely effective at key moments in the penitentiary journey: during presentation in court, at the time of the sentence adjustment decision or even on release from prison. This legal and institutional impasse has the consequence that, the gradual increase in cases of recurrence as we will see in the following lines.

However, how to organize effective social support during detention? How can we actively support the released person in their first months of freedom, which are often a period of great vulnerability and high risk of recidivism? How can we ensure that sentences carried out in an open environment also contribute to social inclusion?

The purpose of the following lines is to answer these questions through a legal analysis which aims to target the consequences of the lack of supervision of former prisoners and detainees and to suggest mechanisms to re-socialize and thus prevent relapse into delinquency. .

1. A theoretical reintegration

The criminal legislation of Rwanda envisages some reintegration and re-education of former prisoners but this remains theoretical because the released people simply go home without further follow-up as if nothing had happened.

1.1. Delinquency is no accident

“Whoever opens a school door closes a prison. “Victor Hugo

Before even talking about reintegration, in many cases, it would therefore be appropriate to focus simply on integration. Delinquency is not the result of chance or fate. When it does not come from a mental imbalance, it often results from a dropout (family and / or school in particular), a lack of benchmarks, material insecurity, dependence (alcohol, drugs), even in some cases a desperate search for affirmation. This is no excuse for drift, but it may explain it and help prevent it.

Determining the reasons for falling into a crime is difficult, because each case has its specificities. However, a survey on the social origin and the educational level of the detainees, draws some eloquent conclusions: the average detainee in Rwanda is predominantly male, he is young, of a low social class; he has few dreams of a professional future and is seriously undereducated. In addition, we should not underestimate the rise of intellectual crimes commonly known as white collar crime that we encounter in urban areas: abuse of social goods; call for tenders; money laundering; cavalry; corruption; embezzlement; fraudulent bankruptcy; tax fraud; influence peddling; fraud; abuse of a dominant position; insider trading; plagiarism; cybercrime, etc.

1.2. Rwandan case-laws

We note three among many cases of recidivism testifying that without follow-up the former prisoner did not repent but resumed his criminality to say that the prison just temporarily suspended the course.

1.RPA 00228/2017 / TGI / HYE: ONPJ v. NDAGIJIMANA Fulgence

NDAGIJIMANA Fulgence was prosecuted for trafficking prohibited narcotics nicknamed “muriture” and the Mugombwa primary court sentenced him to 4 years and six months but he lodged an appeal requesting a reduction of sentence based on the confession he had made ; the Huye District Court refused him this indulgence because he had already been sentenced for the same facts to 1 year in prison and the case therefore constituted a repeat offense.

2. RP 0078/15 / TGI / RSZ: ONPJ c. MUKAMUNANA Leah

The Rusizi intermediate court was examining the appeal lodged by Mukamunana Lea for the offense of trafficking in hemp for which he had been sentenced to 5 years’ imprisonment which had been motivated by the fact that he had been the subject of the similar case RP0193 / TB / GIS before the primary court of Gisenyi which had sentenced him to 1 year imprisonment. The intermediate court of Rusizi examined the possibilities of reducing the sentence imposed on him for recidivism but the fact that she had a baby that he was breastfeeding and that he risked staying with her in detention, she was given a stay.

3. RP 0108/15 / TGI / RSZ: ONPJ c. MUKESHIMANA Jean Paul son BINEZA Venuste; MUKABUTERA Ancilla; HAKIZIMANA Jean Népomuscène alias SELEMAN; HAKIZIMANA Jean Népomuscène alias SELEMAN

The co-defendants were being prosecuted for armed robbery committed by robbing musical instruments at the GISHOMA school center after receiving a year of imprisonment for theft in case RP 0139/14 / TB / NYAKB. The Rusizi District Court sentenced them to 5 years’ imprisonment and rejected the reduced sentence they had requested on the basis of a sincere confession because this crime was already a repeat offense.

1.3 Recurrence as a negative effect of the lack of follow-up and reintegration

To err is human, but is recidivism really evil? All are not repeat offenders in the legal sense of the term (repetition of the same offense), but rather repeat offenders in the broad sense (several prison sentences, regardless of the type of offense). Like all repeat offenders, these men each have their own unique story. They also have their say, essential to understand and prevent recurrence.

1.3.1 Released with nothing in his pocket

The first time was for thefts. I was 19, I no longer had a job, I no longer lived with my parents, I was doing bullshit after bullshit. I had a lot of bad associates and I was very easily influenced. “Anthony discovered the old jail house of Loos, in the suburbs of Lille, in 2008. This nice fellow with brown hair did not feel like he was there. his place, even less than outside. Released after twenty-two months of detention, he “came out with nothing, without a job, with no money in his pocket. I had asked for supervision, I didn’t get it, that’s what brought me back to prison.

Indeed, in 2011, he is back behind bars for lack of a license (“not the means”), drunk driving and hit-and-run. A bad for a good, no doubt, because he then obtains an adjustment of sentence and this famous follow-up which he lacked. The young carpenter with the deep voice is currently finishing his sentence in Amiens within an association, which supports him for a smooth reintegration.

The case of Anthony corresponds to a large part of repeat offenders, often young, enrolled in a path of petty crime, lacking professional and emotional ties. The greatest risk of recidivism lies in the following combination: having a legal record, not declaring a profession and being in the young age groups.

1.3.2.Stealing was my job

Hafed was, as he defines himself, “a repeat offender of the hold-up, a craftsman of the crime.” Far from the case of Anthony, far from feeling lacking in benchmarks, Hafed chose “the profession of thief” . “To pay the bills. And because I wanted to be free, not owe anything to anyone, not to be a prisoner of a job. “A philosophy of recidivism, with the return to prison as a professional accident.” It’s like an addiction to gambling: you play, sometimes we lose, but we start again “, he emphasizes.

Incarcerated for the first time at the age of 16, this 50-year-old born in the beautiful districts of Paris had three long sentences from 1985, until his last robbery in 2004, “all alone, without even a gun”. Today, “[his] thief ability is still there, but that doesn’t interest [him] anymore. Crime pisses him off,” he confesses. Despite the media coverage of their recidivism, criminals are only a tiny fraction of the mass of repeat offenders. Hafed is thus an exception in the landscape of recidivism. For him, if the phenomenon of recurrence exists it is because the prison does not solve the problems of the inmates: “You take action because you have a money problem for example, and, when you get out of prison, your problem is still waiting for you, multiplied; the prison has simply put your problem in brackets, and you with it. This is also the case for addictions (alcohol, drugs…) and mental disorders, very common among repeat offenders.

1.3.3 My pride is above my freedom

Yazid is an angry man. It has been six years since he was released and struggled, without stable housing or work. He discovered the prison at the age of 17, before returning there later for twenty-one months, for a reason which he does not say and which is today a ban on him going to Seine-Saint-Denis.

Yazid is angry because he is approaching 40, his troubles remain and his good will for reintegration is crumbling. he is “fed up with begging, of coming for nothing”. His odd jobs do not allow him to find an apartment, his “biggest problem”. Tired, his face tense, he even comes to speak of the day when he will resume his “activities, even if that takes him to the pipe break, because his pride is above his freedom.

2. Legal and institutional mechanisms for effective management

Faced with the harmful effects of the lack of follow-up of former prisoners and detainees after their release, the following alternatives should be suggested.

2.1 Social relations, post-penitentiary assistance

According to Article 79 of the Minimum Rules on Conditions of Detention, particular attention must be paid to maintaining and improving relations between the detainee and his family, when these are desirable in the interests of both parties. From the start of the sentence, the future of the detainee after his release must be taken into account. The latter must be encouraged to maintain or establish relations with persons or organizations from outside which can promote the interests of his family as well as his own social rehabilitation.

1) The services and bodies, official or not, which help released prisoners to find their place in society must, as far as possible, provide released prisoners with the necessary documents and identity papers, provide them with accommodation, work, clothing suitable and appropriate to the climate and the season, as well as the means necessary to arrive at destination and to subsist during the period immediately following the release.

2) Authorized representatives of these bodies must have access to the establishment and to inmates. Their opinion on plans for the reclassification of a prisoner must be requested from the start of the sentence.

3) It is desirable that the activity of these bodies be as much as possible centralized or coordinated, so that the best use can be made of their efforts.

2.2. Valuing the human

It will be understood: whether it is for the reintegration of released people or for a change in mentalities in general, it is essential to put people back at the center, to recreate links, to forge relationships. This can happen through an attachment to people or simply to projects, sometimes quite simple: participation in an activity, a sporting objective, involvement in an association, a support group, a play … According to Marcus, the solution to avoid falling into the crime is quite simple: Go to the person! In every human being, there is something to be valued. “It is up to each citizen to realize that he is jointly responsible for prevention. “The responsibility of each citizen to be the guarantor of the well-being of our society goes through the attention of the most excluded. Listening to the tortuous journey of many prisoners, one can wonder if, after having lived all this, one would not be oneself in their place. Even though this would not make it possible to excuse the fault, nor of course to erase it, it would undoubtedly help to understand, and especially to progress. This reflection leads us to set aside any peremptory judgment and to ask ourselves a lot of questions. What is under the label (ex-) prisoner? Who is this person? What could have gotten her there? How can she rebuild herself and reconnect?

2.3.Associations alongside the “freed”

The reintegration of former detainees is not just an ethical question. It is also a social necessity because, while the prison sentence is intended to protect society, the least that can be expected is that it helps the prisoner not to relapse. Finally, if neither the moral nor the social argument is heard, perhaps the economy will hit the nail on the head with decision-makers? Avoiding recurrence means avoiding additional costs! When no one is waiting for a released inmate at the prison door, when family and friends are absent, it is often old relationships that are rekindled, opening the door to recidivism. In France and Belgium, there are many associations which support former prisoners in their first steps as free citizens. Among these, one finds in particular the SAD (Services of assistance to the prisoners) and the ASJ (Social assistance to the litigants). We can also mention La Touline (Nivelles), Après (Brussels), Espace libre (Charleroi), among others. These services are more than useful, but overloaded: too few staff for too many requests. It is up to decision-makers to greatly increase their resources and improve the links between the different structures of this institutional mosaic. It is important for Rwanda to create an institution in charge of monitoring former prisoners which would put in place the conditions for social reintegration, designing jobs and professional training as well as psychological monitoring of all this post-prison population. supervision of the Ministry of Justice and would collaborate with the prison service (RCS) and the National Public Prosecution Authority(ONPJ).


Society cannot guard against delinquency and criminality by using only surveillance, threats and punishment. It must set up structures that promote living together and well-being, so that these are not just empty words or beautiful values. It involves social, economic and political choices. More specifically, the challenge of imprisonment – besides whether it is justified or not – is to protect society, not only by locking up offenders, but also by equipping them so that their reintegration is better than their integration. A person who has just spent months, years, in the shadow of a place which is nothing but tension, humiliation, confinement, violence, will only be able to come out of it like a beast springing out of his cage. If, on the other hand, she is accompanied in the right way – which may vary from case to case – she will have a much better chance of finding her place in the “free world”. To improve the release of the released from prison, it is obviously not a question of relativizing the suffering of the victims nor of denying the errors of the culprits, or of not inflicting a sanction; it is necessary to support the reintegration process more both during the period of detention (which includes, among other things, the review of an unsuitable prison system) and after release, but also to act in a preventive manner on the societal drifts which push too many people at fault. If we really want to act upstream, we must urgently question the model of society and in particular reduce the glaring social and economic gaps.