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Beyond name change of correctional centres

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Nigeria Prison

Criminal justice system is responsible for the congestion of correctional centres across Nigeria because the delay in the Justice System has put Aregbesola and 52,226 pre-trial inmates in hard condition. Federal Government has Federal High Courts established under Section 249 of the Constitution as a trial court. States have their own High Courts in Section 270 of the Constitution. States also have Magistrates Courts established by law of the Houses of Assembly of various states. These Courts prosecute criminal cases and sentence people to imprisonments or fine or both. I must blame the menace of correctional centres congestion on the nature of criminal justice system in Nigeria despite the fact there are many courts. Criminal justice system encompasses all the paraphernalia of justice system in Nigeria; ranging from police, court, correctional centres and other law enforcement agencies. Investigation takes about weeks or months to conclude and when a matter is concluded on investigation and brought to court for trial, if charges are not filed against them in a court of competent jurisdiction, there will be delay.

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The slow pace of justice dispensation in the country, which is attributable to long and, sometimes, mischievous adjournment of cases has led to non-dispensation of most cases thereby abandoning the inmates in prisons, inadequate funding of the judiciary, slow investigation process by the police. Unfortunately, due to the inherent lapses in the system, the correctional centres system which is supposed to be reformatory has eventually turned to punitive, thereby defeating the true essence of sending convicts to prisons. The implication of this reversed system of prison administration is that the inmates of our correctional centres come out more criminally minded than they were before conviction.

Also, the constitutional duties of the Chief Judges to visit prisons should be consistently complied with. This power vested in the Chief Judges to visit and release inmates with offences or those that have over-spent their prison terms and are still there, would help to drastically decongest the prisons. Similarly, there is the institutionalized way of delaying trials in the justice delivery system by way of holding charge. Time has come for the nation to do away with such stop-gaps. Of equal importance is the upward review of funding of the Judiciary and the right Judiciary personnel to do the job. With adequate funding, the prison authorities would be able to bring inmates to and from the courts to the prisons. In the present situation, there are instances where the courts cannot sit because there are no vehicles to transport them to the courts.

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The police also should be given the wherewithal to perform their constitutional role in justice dispensation. It is our candid view that when these are done, the justice delivery system would improve and this, in turn, would help to decongest our prisons for a saner society.

The new Nigerian Correctional Service Act, which repealed and replaced the Prison Act and consequently changed the name from the Nigerian Prisons Service to the Nigerian Correctional Service, reflects the need for the reform of the system. “The problem of prison congestion in the country is huge. Minister of Interior Rauf Aregbesola has called for immediate decongestion of correctional centres to prevent the spread of Coronavirus. He has warned that if drastic measures are not taken now, the situation could quickly spiral out of control. On March 28, 2020 President Buhari approved the decongestion of Correctional Service formations due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Buhari had constituted a Presidential Committee for the Decongestion of the Correctional Centres, which will be coordinated by the Federal Ministry of Justice. The delay in the Justice System has put Aregbesola and 52,226 pre-trial inmates in hard moment. There is pressure on Rauf Aregbesola, Minister of Interior to decongest correctional centres across Nigeria due to coronavirus pandemic even when 52,226 pre-trial inmates have not been convicted.

The committee on decongestion has the following criteria to follow as it affects those on remand:
(A) Those who have spent six years and above should be released conditionally or unconditionally.
(B) Discharge of those who are terminally ill and those who have no confirmed cases of criminality, persons who have become old, those who are low risk offenders and those who have no sufficient legal basis to remain in custody.

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According to Honourable Minister of Justice, there are 74, 127 inmates in custody in the nation’s custodial centres. Out of that number 52,226 are pre-trial inmates, 21, 901 are convicts and those that are condemned. Rauf Aregbesola has pointed out that our correctional centres are operating far beyond their capacities.

United Nations has encouraged member countries to pay necessary attention to their prisons and correctional centres. The UN expects that individual nations to carry out the decongestion exercise under internationally acceptable best practices as it suits the local environment.

Minister of Interior is developing a plan to build more correctional centres with modern equipment so as to decongest the centres across the states and teach them how to fend for themselves if eventually released from the correctional centres. Now the question is how can the judiciary go about decongesting the Nigerian correctional centres system so that there will be enough space there?

Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola is working on devolution of powers between the federal government, judiciary and the states to decongest correctional centres in Nigeria; and thereby taking correctional centres beyond name change.

Donald wrote via inwalomhe.donald@yahoo.com

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