The director of the Prisoners’ Rights Advocacy Initiative,PRAI, Ahmed Adetola-Kazeem, has addressed a letter to the Honourable Chief Judge of Lagos State, Justice Kazeem Alogba, urging His Lordship to take more aggressive action to unclog the overcrowded correctional centres in Lagos State.
In the letter, PRAI, commended Justice Alogba for enhancing the prison decongestion drive while praying His Lordship to make the laudable scheme more impactful —by enabling the release of even more inmates.
Dropping statistics, PRAI stated that: “as at 12th of March 2020, the total population of inmates across the five correctional centres in Lagos which has a combine capacity of 4,087 stood at 9,056. Out of that number 7,356 are awaiting trial which represents 81.2% of the total population. Only 1700 have been convicted”
It averred that: ” the living condition of awaiting trial persons is a total mess. A cell that should accommodate 30 persons is currently accommodating 130. This situation has made the spread of communicable diseases like Tuberculosis and Hypertitis B rife among this population as well as frequent deaths which are most times not in the Public view. God forbid we have a pandemic disease like Coronovirus, the devastation can only be imagined.
“My lord was present at Ikoyi Custodial Centre in 2018, when the inmates acted a drama illustrating the conditions of the Awaiting Trial population, the overcrowding, the frequent deaths as well the reference to the dead inmates as “blankets”, further emphasizing the worthlessness of the life of an awaiting trial person. The electrocution incidence at the Ikoyi Custodial Centre last December, where at least five Awaiting trial inmates lost their lives and over 15 were injured in an extremely overcrowded cell makes making this particular exercise more impactful very expedient.”
The NGO urged the Chief Judge to expand the criteria to accommodate suspects who have been accused of more serious offences and have stayed too long in the custodial centres either without trial or where trial has been irredeemably stalled.
“We are not unmindful of the need to balance public safety in the decision we make, but I plead that your lordship make the pendulum swing in favour of the presumption of innocence in exercising your discretion.” PRAI pleaded.
The NGO presented the following suggestions:
- Awaiting Trial Persons who have spent more than one year in prison for minor offences should be considered for release.
- Awaiting Trial Persons who have spent more than two years for serious offences should be considered.
- An audit of all awaiting trial persons should be done, to determine how long they’ve stayed in Prison, for what offence and to also determine the status of the cases of those who have been appearing in court but without any meaningful progress for a long period of time.
- An audit should be done to identify and release inmates who have spent a period longer than the maximum period of imprisonment which they could have served had they been convicted of the offence in respect of which they were detained.
The audits mentioned above, the letter says, would be easier if done in collaboration with the Ministry of Justice, Office of the Public Defender, the Nigerian Bar Association and active Non-Governmental Organisations
“We are hopeful of a favourable response and the inmates are equally hopeful of the best parting gift anyone could ask for – FREEDOM”.