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How improved prison education can decongest correctional centres, reduce crime, by experts

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Iwuagwu

The Nigerian Correctional Service (NCoS) is saddled with managing the rehabilitation process of inmates. These inmates are expected to rejoin the society at the expiration of their term. There are a good number of former inmates who are self-employed, while others work in different organisations. Some continue their education outside the prison; several are married and are responsible citizens. However, the environment and social attitude of discrimination and stigmatisation of ex-inmates is a major obstacle to reintegrate them.

But just as serving terms matter, how the inmates pass time in their stages of correctional system is equally important. Observers identified over-population, deplorable facilities, and ineffectiveness of skill acquisition and rehabilitation centres as some of the factors that have plagued the system in the country for years.

To reform the system, President Muhammadu Buhari, in August last year, introduced the Nigerian Correctional Service Act to infuse new life into the system. One of the significant changes in the law was a new nomenclature for the Nigerian Prison Service. The service has several developmental programmes for inmates targeted at their rehabilitation and reintegration into the society. One of the objectives of the Act in Section 2(1) (c) is to enhance the focus on corrections and promotion of reformation, rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders. Section 10 (g) empowers inmates through the deployment of educational and vocational skills training programmes, facilitating incentives and income generation through custodial centres farms and industries.

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Speaking on how the service is changing the narrative, particularly in the area of education, the Public Relations Officer and Deputy Controller of the service, Austin Njoku said apart from skill acquisition, the service has education programmes for inmates at primary, secondary and tertiary levels. “We have teachers and officials who teach inmates. We have schools with classrooms inside the custodial centres. So those of them that are interested depending on how many years of imprisonment enrol,” he said.

Njoku said some of the inmates that dropped out in primary or secondary schools write NECO, WASSCE or GCE and gained admission into the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN), adding that the service has dedicated JAMB centres for the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME).  He stated that the service is equally partnering with Federal Colleges of Education to offer NCE programmes for inmates.

According to information available on the service website, the total inmates population across the country as at November 2020 is 65, 988 with 17,085 (26 per cent) convicted while 48, 903, representing (74 per cent) are awaiting trial. But of this figure, only about 649 inmates are enrolled in NOUN for higher education with 10 pursuing doctorate programmes.

On how the service supports inmates to pursue educational programmes, Njoku said they provide both materials and manpower for learning.  “We have an understanding with NOUN, the school does not charge anything. Before, if an inmate was in 200 level and his term expires, the funding would stop but due to the intervention of the Controller General who pleaded with the vice chancellor, the NOUN management allows our students to complete their programmes, even up to PhD level.”

Executive Director, Prison Fellowship of Nigeria, Benson Iwuagwu said the service has vocational, recreational and religious as well as educational programmes, which it administers for the purposes of reforming and rehabilitating inmates in its custody. Iwuagwu said some of these programmes are supported by interested individuals and organisations, to complement government’s funding of the service.

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While lauding NCoS for the learning opportunity from primary to tertiary level, Iwuagwu said the service provides the enabling environment, including encouraging inmates to invest their time in developing themselves through education.

“The prison fellowship and other interested individuals and groups assist in providing teachers and financial support that ensures that the programme thrives.  There are PhD students in there and some have completed their studies,” he said.

Speaking on challenges facing the reformation of inmates, Iwuagwu said it is common knowledge that the country’s educational system is grossly underfunded. According to him, ASUU’s protracted faceoff with government on its refusal to honour the agreement reached with the union is one of the clear indication of problems facing the sector.

Notwithstanding, Iwuagwu said with the support of some individuals and organisations, the group has kept available programmes running in the service.

Ogu

Deputy Director, Prisoners Rehabilitation and Welfare Action (PRAWA), Ogechi Ogu also stated that several non-governmental organisations are working with the correctional service to provide support for different levels of learning, sometimes through informal education programmes.

She said: “A good example is Dream Again Prison and Youth Foundation, which sets up a standard library at Medium Security Custodian Centre, Kaduna, and made available a well-equipped classroom with computers and state-of- the-art chairs and tables for learning comfort of inmates.”

Citing section 14(1) of the NCoS Act, which provides that correctional service shall provide opportunities for education, vocational training as well as training in modern farming techniques and animal husbandry for inmates, Ogu said: “I know also that by partnering with different non-governmental organisations, the NCoS have different platforms and opportunities for inmates to add value to themselves both spiritually and mentally.

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“The correctional service industry has provided inmates opportunities of learning different skills.  Most of the Personalised Protective Equipment donated by PRAWA with the support of Open Society Initiative of West Africa to the service at the peak of the pandemic were produced by the NCoS industry. The production was contracted to the service, which used the inmates working in these industries.

Speaking on support for inmates running programmes in NOUN and other educational programmes, Ogu said non-governmental organisations provide writing materials and payment of take-off fees to assist the service.

“PRAWA on its part, has supported inmates through sensitisation workshops especially on human rights and development of information, education and communication materials to enable inmates know their rights while in custody. Some of these resources are also translated to the three major languages in Nigeria including Pidgin English,” she said.

Ogu, however, noted that there are no definite statistics on enrollment of inmates, especially at the primary and secondary levels.

On challenges facing reformation of inmates through education, Ogu identified lack of adequate learning facilities, which include modern learning tools like computers and inadequate numbers of motivated correctional officers with capacity to facilitate education of inmates. According to her, the congestion of some of the centres, especially those in urban areas, is a big issue as the high number of inmates, particularly those awaiting trial makes reformation difficult.

Also speaking on the problems, an educationist with Inmate Education Foundation, Mahfuz Alabidun, said there are no schools or library structures in some of the correctional centres. Other issues are lack of learning materials and personnel to deliver quality education, lack of motivation and absence of community support either from companies or organisations.

But to address some of the challenges, Njoku said the Controller General of the service has directed that all inmates across the country must have access to tertiary education. He said the prison boss mandated all custodial centres with about 30 inmates to have NOUN centres.

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“For instance, in remote areas, if an inmate shows interest to further his or her education, such an inmate would be transferred to a bigger centre within the state where the programme is available. All interested inmates are enrolled in various studies. Even the underage boys in Booster institutions, we have different categories in primary and secondary schools. The new Act has mandated every state to have a Booster institution,” he said.

Njoku appealed to civil societies to invest in inmates, noting that though they committed crimes, they need love to shun crime. He also appealed to communities to embrace inmates and give them a sense of acceptance.

On his part, Iwuagwu said: “Of particular concern is the discriminatory laws against ex-inmates participation in socio-economic and political activities. When seeking employment, there is always that question: Have you been convicted of any crime? Once the answer yes, that is the end of the road. This has to be urgently addressed. They have served their punishment, why sentence them again to a life of rejection and social isolation? Government should lead the way by repealing and abrogating those discriminatory laws, in addition to providing rehabilitation and reintegration support for vulnerable groups. When the government sends out such positive message, the general society will begin to see the need to support ex-inmates of our custodial centres.

“We need social education and enlightenment for attitudinal change towards the inmates.  Our society and government appear sanctimonious and unforgiving. It is this social and governmental attitude that largely contributed to the high level of recidivism and escalation of crime. If we have a positive change of attitude towards ex-inmates, they will do well and contribute to our overall socio-economic and GDP improvement, in addition to marking up our social civilisation.”

Alabidun urged philanthropists and donors to see inmates’ education as a community service they need to support.

He said: “Companies and organisations should also see it as one their Corporate Social Responsibilities; government should also see the correctional service as a means to liberate the minds of the inmates and support the non-custodians who wish to support correctional education.
“They should equally create jobs or welfare schemes for ex inmates who have passed through education while in the correctional centres.”

Ogu on her part, said to improve prisoners’ access to education, funding is critical.

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“There is need for appropriate teaching aids and qualified officers for teaching. Adequate budgetary provision should be made for education of inmates if we must get their correction right. Funding for education of inmates should not be left in the hands of donor agencies; government should consciously work on this to ensure effective reformation of inmates. This should be accompanied by systematic strategies to ensure that inmates that are able to acquire education while in custody are put to effective use.”

“It is even more important for government to demonstrate willingness to ensure that these persons are not stigmatised, in terms of getting jobs upon release. Already the NCoS Act has a progressive provision around this. Sections 14 (5) provides for the issuance of certificate of good behaviour by the Controller General of Corrections to an inmate who had demonstrated good conduct, including those who have acquired training through formal and informal education, aimed at facilitating their reintegration, while Sec.14 (6) provides that a person who is issued with the certificate of good behaviour shall not be discriminated against on grounds of his custodial sentence. What is required now is the political will to ensure implementation.

“Vocational skills workshops should be well equipped and professionals brought in to manage these for optimal performance, “ she added.

To encourage inmates that embrace such programmes, Ogu said economic empowerment in terms of employment is critical to proper reintegration into the society, while implementation of the provision on non-discrimination is quite important.

“There should also be an effective plan for equipping each graduate with tools or equipment for a startup when released. Government needs to work hard in coming up with a strategic after care programme that follows up with ex-inmates’ progress and success story. There should be a mentoring programme led by successful ex-inmates to serve as a great motivation to others,” Ogu added.

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