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We freed 3,751 inmates to stifle COVID-19 spread, says Malami

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The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami (SAN) has revealed that 3,751 prison inmates, mostly adults were released shortly after the outbreak of the COVID-19 in Nigeria to mitigate the spread.

The deed, he said was also a fundamental contribution to the ongoing Justice Sector Reform project.

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He stated that his ministry, in partnership with that of the interior, embarked on a nationwide decongestion exercise shortly after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria to stifle the spread of the virus in various correctional centres across the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
   
He made that known at a zoom conference organised by Justice and the Presidential Committee on Correctional Service Reforms and Decongestion (PCCSRD) in collaboration with the United Nations children’s fund (UNICEF), themed:
“Implementation of amnesty and decongestion programme for juveniles deprived of the liberty during COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.”

According to Malami, the Federal Executive Council had given the mandate to decongest Correctional Centres and articulate workable reforms in the justice sector.

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Other speakers at the event were Attorneys-General and Heads of Courts of states and FCT, the Director-General, Nigerian Law School, Prof. Isa Hayatu Chiroma, (SAN), the Country Representative of UNICEF, Mr. Peter Hawkins, among others.
   
He stated that the ministry has articulated plans for the second phase of the Nationwide Custodial Decongestion, which will focus on implementing amnesty and decongestion for juveniles deprived of their liberty during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.
   
According to him, the aim for the intervention is to promote juvenile justice in Nigeria, minimize violence against children by recognising that childhood is the most formative period of a person’s life and the time when individuals are most sensitive and strongly influenced; and to support children currently in the custodial settings to reclaim their childhood through protective and child-sensitive justice system.

He, therefore, tasked the justice sector stakeholders to consider how to use arrest, detention, and imprisonment only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period and how to treat every child deprived of liberty with humanity and respect. 

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Hawkins in his remark stated that amnesty and decongestion should be considered good for children, particularly for a great number of them who should not be in detention.

He also made reference to the young adult who is currently detained in an adult correctional facility in Kano, for offences of blasphemy. 
   
He suggested that due consideration should be given for him to have amnesty, considering his age, level of maturity, and his status as a first-time offender.

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He, therefore, commended the Cross River State judiciary for releasing over 30 children below the age of 18 from the Nigerian correctional centre where they were detained.
   
According to Mrs. Nwogu Obianugu, commissioner for justice, Anambra state, there are no juveniles in custody in Anambra as three were released recently, leaving none in custody.
   
“During this pandemic, our present chief judge mandated all the magistrates to review remand proceedings, and when they did that, it reduced the number of inmates in the prison custody, and that decongested the prisons and assisted in curbing the spread of COVID-19,” She said.

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She also noted that there is no juvenile correctional center in Anambra, adding that there is one under construction with the aid of the European Union.

According to her, when completed inmates would have the opportunity of availing themselves of various kinds of trainings, ranging from formal training to the acquisition of skills and other vocational training.
   
For Hon. Kazeem Alogba, Chief Judge of Lagos State, juvenile offenders are to be kept as much as possible in descent and rehabilitating the environment.

“Where they are kept in custody, they must be made to undergo a vocational programme so once they are released to the society, they will be returning to gainful employment, and would less likely return to crime,” he advised.

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