During the Golden jubilee of the Independence of Burundi celebrations, the problem of overcrowding in Burundi prisons has been rethought. Certainly, prison overcrowding is one of the forms of ill-treatment referred to in all the texts against torture. Not only was there a strong necessity to reduce the number of inmates in order to conform with acceptable conditions defined in international norms on prisons, but also, in this period of national festivities, common practice is to give pardon to some prisoners. A Commission has been set up to carry out the task of releasing detainees just after these measures were taken. The Commission has been working for about two months. A look to the current data on the number of prisoners in all the eleven prisons shows that on August 10, 2012 there were 7,648 prisoners whereas on June 15, 2012, the total number of prisoners was 10,562. Upon this data, about 2,914 prisoners have been released. Indeed, the total number of released prisoners until now goes beyond. Yet in the same period, there are new comers in Burundian prisons. But, IBJ hopes that, at the end of this month, the total number of released prisoners will reach 4,000. However, this Commission remains far from reaching the aims of pardon decrees through which 7,000 prisoners were expected to recover freedom.
The analysis of inmates’ situation as provided by the Burundi Direction for Prisons Affairs shows that the number of children in Burundi prisons has also decreased. Almost half of them went out of the prisons. On August 10, there were 177 juvenile offenders while on June 15, 2012, 342 children were imprisoned.
Disquieting is the number of defendants. On August 10, there were 4,163 defendants whereas on June 15, 2012, 4,863 defendants were in custody. This proves that, as long as lasting solutions are not applied, it will remain difficult to have a decrease in the prison population in Burundi because while some prisoners are being released, others are being incarcerated.
At all, one is to note that Burundian authorities need to make additional efforts to concretize the will of improving living conditions in prisons. We think that enforcement of principles like:” Freedom is the rule, detention the exception” needs to be correctly done in order to reach the goal. True is the fact that solutions to prison overcrowding go beyond the single fact of releasing. Not only the measures have to be correctly applied but, also, global and fundamental changes must intervene in criminal practice in Burundi, as it has been suggested several times by human rights defenders. The Burundi criminal justice system actors need to improve their throughput in order to handle all cases in real time. This is what IBJ claims for through varied roundtables and training events organized in Burundi until this day. All criminal Justice stakeholders and even the population must be sufficiently sensitized on criminal practice and basic rights of the persons accused of crime. Also, revising the legal framework on detention is worth an improvement. Then, if the bill to the Code of Criminal Procedure discussed by many Burundi penal system stakeholders in IBJ roundtables is promulgated, the socio-juridical state of prisoners will change. This code would recognize to all children the right to legal representation; it would have also clarified many legal safeguards that are important to humanize criminal justice in Burundi. Another text that needs rapid adoption is the Code of the Protection of the Child. This act could innovate in the implementation of juvenile justice and then lighten the application of the alternative penalties on children cases.