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    THEWILL Editorial: Nigeria Prisons Must Be Correctional To Save Citizens From Hardened Criminals

    SAN FRANCISCO, July 13, (THEWILL) – A prison is meant to be a reformatory centre that refines convicted criminals or lawbreakers so that they can come out of confinement as better citizens. But in Nigeria, the prison system is proving not to be corrective owing to its poor condition that rather turns inmates into hardened criminals. It is said that the easiest way to determine how a country cares for its citizens is by paying a visit to that country’s prison facilities.

    A visit to any of the prison facilities in the country would really show those running the affairs of the country as uncaring. Prisoners are housed in such inhuman condition which would be considered by some countries as less befitting for even animals. It is common knowledge that the number of persons that these prisons were built to accommodate has been far overstretched. This has led to glaring congestion that aid jail breaks.

    Of great concern is that majority of the inmates are said to be those awaiting trial. The condition in these prisons is so bad that about 100 inmates are sleeping in a cell that was built for 10 people!

    This congestion is without regard to the health implications on the inmates. Unfortunately, most of them are languishing in jail for minor offences such as wandering or hawking, and were only incarcerated because they could not afford to pay fines as low as N20, 000.

    The effect of cohabiting such persons with felons is that they are indoctrinated and made to come back into the society in a worse state of mind. The ugly experience of such inmates may make them nurse a grudge against the society that was so unkind to them and would want to extract a pound of flesh from the hapless citizens. It is in this regard that the proposed Community Service Bill by the Majority Leader of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila to decongest prisons is welcomed.

    According to him, the review became necessary to save the inmates that “are not criminals but petty offenders involved in misdemeanours like wandering, hawking or trading illegally on the streets”.

    THEWILL supports this position of Gbajabiamila that such low offenders should be given milder punishments than imprisonment. Making them to do community services would be of more benefit to the society than imprisonment. More importantly, it would help decongest prisons.

    Another reason often given for prison congestion is the lack of adequate vehicles to convey suspects to courts. This issue should be addressed to ease over-crowding. We commend the initiative of the Nigerian Prisons Service, NPS, which recently commissioned 239 vehicles, including 22 tractors and other farm implements to improve the living condition of prisoners, and make them more productive.

    THEWILL urges the service to go a step further by providing skills acquisition tools and conducive environment to enable inmates learn a trade, or even further their education while doing time.

    This is necessary to make the country to meet the global expectation of the penitentiaries, which has its focus on the three ‘Rs’ of Reformation, Rehabilitation and Reintegration of transformed ex-prisoners into the society.

    These prisons, most of which were built by the colonial masters, have become dilapidated and worsened by poor infrastructure, urban encroachment, poor budgetary provisions and misappropriation of funds meant to run the system.

    As the Minister of Interior, Abdulrahman Dambazau reaffirmed during the vehicles’ commissioning, over 72 per cent of the inmates are awaiting trial, noting the vehicles would facilitate the transportation of inmates to the over 6000 courts across the country on daily basis.

    THEWILL agrees with Dambazau that, “the slow pace of the criminal justice administration in the country and the attendant prolonged pre-trial detention of suspects have resulted in severe overcrowding in most of the prisons in the urban centres”.

    We therefore urged the National Judicial Council, NJC and the Nigeria Bar Association, NBA to collaborate to ensure that cases are not unnecessarily delayed to the detriment of suspects, bearing in mind the condition of prisons in the country.

    Over the years, it has been argued that the control of the prisons should be decentralized to free the system from the exclusive grip of the Federal Government. It is reassuring however that this could become a reality soon, if the power recently granted to state governors by the Federal Executive Council, FEC, to build and operate prisons is judiciously implemented. We canvass that same should be extended to local government councils to widen the scope of reform.

    We urge state chief judges to periodically visit prisons to review cases of inmates who have spent longer times even beyond the maximum penalty upon conviction for the offences they allegedly committed.

    All relevant authorities should give the NPS the necessary support so that the society is not afflicted by ex-prisoners that have become hardened criminals. This would only aggravate the already dire security challenges in the country. Indeed, the society would be the better for it if new prison facilities are built to decongest the existing ones.

    The Federal Government should collaborate with religious bodies and civil societies to develop prison facilities to ensure that only truly transformed and reformed inmates are reintegrated into the society by the time they finish serving their prison sentence.

    The welfare of prison guards (warders) should also be provided for to enable them be patriotic in the discharge of their duties.

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