Government not doing enough to reform prisons, inmates — Stakeholders
Ideally, prison yards should serve as centres to remand and reform wrongdoers, but the situation in Nigerian prisons is clearly a marked departure from the norm.
Ranging from the swelling population of inmates that have not even been sentenced, to the quality of lives in these prisons, as well as the growing absence of vocational training in many prisons around the country, a lot appears to be wrong with the country’s prison system, which many say dehumanises the inmates.
It is in the light of the foregoing that some are saying that the country’s prison system needs immediate review in order for it to be fit for its’ purpose.
Adetoro Olumuyiwa, a security expert is of the view that the Federal Government is paying lips to prison reforms, and was more interested in securing these facilities than investing in programmes that would better the lives of the inmates once they serve out their sentences.
She deplored the fact that inmates are not only overcrowded in their unhygienic cells that are bereft of amenities, and these hostile environments only get them maladjusted.
Olumuyiwa maintained that Nigerian prisons are far from being reformation centres that they ought to be, and are now breeding grounds for hardened criminals, as confirmed by the dysfunctional conduct of former inmates, who sooner or later return to crime after release.
She also lamented a situation where prisons are now heavily populated by suspects that committed bailable offences, saying this is a reflection of the very poor justice delivery system that is in place.
She, therefore, said there must be renewed commitment to evolving a new prison order in the country, and agencies involved in the chain, right from the Nigeria Police, to the judiciary and the Nigeria Prison Service must be ready for a total overhaul of the system.
“It is also high time we realised that not all of those on death row would eventually be killed; some of them will get state pardon or might be set free after a retrial, so their rights should in no way be curtailed while they are still alive. It is very important that inmates are equipped with one form of skill or the other because they would need such for survival after serving their jail sentences.
John Egunna, a legal practitioner, is equally displeased with the Federal Government over its inability to decongest prisons after different attempts over the years.
While alleging that inmates undergo horrible experiences while serving time, he said government appears to be at home with the idea of setting up committees on prison reforms and decongestion, but without implementing any of the recommendations.
“From June 2000 till date, different committees have recommended diverse ways of improving prison conditions, address the issues of the large number of inmates awaiting trial and congestion, yet none has been implemented. Many suspects have been denied the right to contact their family members or get lawyers to stand for them, while some are still being tortured to divulge information. The judiciary has failed to ensure that inmates are tried within reasonable time and most times when they are convicted, most courts do not inform them of their right to appeal,” he said.
All these, he said contribute to why prisons have remained what they are, adding that as the number of inmates increase daily, it puts pressure on the meagre resources available to the prison authorities.
Egunna noted that opening the prisons to other stakeholders and non-governmental organisations who train, counsel and provide food and toiletries for the inmates has brought in some hope, stressing that such palliatives were only limited to some prisons, especially those in big commercial cities, and would want such gestures extended to other facilities across the country.
But commenting on measures so far taken to engage inmates and equip them with vocational skills, Officer-in-Charge of Kirikiri Maximum Prison, DCP Emmanuel Oluwaniyi, said prison authorities are doing their best in equipping inmates with skills in order to make them self-reliant when they leave prison.
He added that inmates that also want to further their education are allowed to do so through the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN), and as a result some of them are now holders of the university’s first and second degrees, while many have been trained in different skills.
He revealed that these programmes enable inmates re-integrate into the society, adding that before now, some of them always returned to crime, hence make their way back to the prison.
He said:“The prison used to be a place of condemnation, where people rejected by the society were dumped, but through the efforts of some churches and non-governmental organisations it has become a place of reformation where inmates get a second chance.”
The Comptroller of Prison, Lagos State Command, Tunde Ladipo, added that such palliative make the duties of prison officials easier.
He said: “NGOs make our work easy by what they are doing in the prisons, such as improving infrastructures, and feeding inmates in all Lagos prisons, donation of power generating plant to Kirikiri and Ikoyi prisons; enrolling inmates for GCE O’Level; provision of materials and free legal aids and facilitation of the release of hundreds of inmates among others.”
Also lauding the achievements of the various not-for-profit-organisations, a volunteer prison welfare officer, Margaret Adedayo, said government should be in the forefront of prisons’ welfare, adding that no matter the amount of resources NGOs put into such services, it would be a far cry from making prison healthy and conducive if government is not involved.
Adedayo disclosed that stakeholders and government should do more by providing soft loans as a startup capital, especially to those that want to establish themselves in the line of business that they were trained, and also make laws that would discourage discrimination against them because discrimination could force some of them to become reclusive in life, which may encourage them to go back to crime.
“The training received in prisons may not be of that high quality because of the overcrowded nature of the place, as well as limited resources, but it will surely pave way for many who want to be free from crime to build on. Beyond this, it would be proper if NGOs are replicating what they are doing in big cities in prisons in the rural communities,” she said.
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