Justice Reform

Decongesting Nigerian Prisons by Douglas Ogbankwa, Esq.

The Nigerian Prisons recently, by enactment of Statute, changed its nomenclature from the Nigerian Prisons Service to the Nigerian Correctional Service.

Beyond the rhetorics if there were no legal or structural framework in place to preclude Prison congestion and to an actual correctional service.

The difference in name may just be akin to the distinction between 6 and half a dozen.

The Nigerian Correctional Centres are perhaps the most congested in the World.
The Congestion stems from the auto pilot pinutive measures in place in the Criminal Justice System. The Penchant for pushing people to Correctional Facilities (Prisons ) under avoidable circumstances,bsome of which flow from blantant injustice and insincerity and the bucaneer approaches to the Prison decongestion process by the apposite authorities .

There are however very easy and cheap ways to decongest Nigerian Correctional Facilities (Prisons ), to wit:

  1. Stop the Culture of Nigerian Judicial and Presiding Officers denying Bail in Bailable Offences or imposing obnoxious and strenuous Bail Conditions. Bail should be granted as a Matter as Course, if so provided by Law and conditions must not to be incongruous with the alleged crime.
    To ensure Symmetry in Granting of Bail ,guidelines should be issued to Judges and Presiding Officers to stop the abuse of Power.Judges and Magistrates should wait to sign the bond ,if the Bail Condition is met in one day.The Culture of “the Magistrate wants to leave” must stop .Signing of Bail Bond or reproduction warrant is not a favour ,it is duty.
  2. Applying Funds meant for Prison Decongestion functionally by paying fines of Convicts,some of which are embarrassingly low. While researching on this treatise, I had a discussion with a Lawyer and development enthusiast, Umar Mantu Esq., who shared an experience, which I will like to call the Mantu Prison Decongestion Template. An NGO he volunteered for ,used the sum of N250,000:00k (Two Hundred and Fifty Thousand Naira ),to release over 200 Prison Inmates who are convicts ,with option of fines ,with the payment of fines as low N2,000:00k (Two Thousand Naira ) to get some inmates home .Imagine how many inmates can be released with 5,000,000:00K (Five Million Naira ).Government should apply funds for Prison Decongestion discreetly in a utilitarian manner. The giving of Prison decongestion briefs ,running into millions of naira to Lawyers ,when in such cases one inmate is not even released is criminal breach of trust. The Practice should stop forthwith. The Ministries of Justice should simply follow the Mantu Prison Decongestion Template,an easy and sensible way to decongest Correctional Facilities (Prisons).
  3. Government should adopt the Non-Custodian Correctional Template to ensure that not every one convicted goes to Correctional Facilities. To this end ,we should have suspended sentences ,Community Service and other non constodian sentencing that meets International Best Practices .Interestingly ,the ACJA and ACJL provides for such novel and path finding lee ways for us all to explore .
  4. In addition ,a Law Should be promulgated writing off fines of Prison Inmates no MATTER how much it may be ,when the Inmate has served half of the prison term to decongest the Prisons. The Parole system should also be adopted to allow persons with good behaviour who have recompensed of their wrong doing to be released,subject to being of good behaviour. We should also adopt the suspended sentences measurenby which though, a Defendant is convicted his, sentence can only start counting over his failure to carry out some remedial, compensatory and/or restitutional actions ,failure which his sentence is activated. Before doing so, he may be released to a Guarantor/Suretie who must sign recognizance for him

With the measures indicated above, prison congestion is likely to be a thing of the past.

Ogbankwa is the Publicity Secretary of the Nigerian Bar Association, Benin branch.

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