Stakeholders in the field of corrections have urged state governments in Nigeria to develop and enforce laws aimed at alleviating prison overcrowding.
The News Agency of Nigeria reported that this call was made during a National Dialogue on Enlisting State Corrections in Nigeria, a collaborative effort between Hope Behind Bars Africa, USAID, and Palladium, held in Abuja.
How state laws exacerbate prison overcrowding crisis in Nigeria
Mrs Funke Adeoye, Executive Director of Hope Behind Bars Africa, emphasized that the majority of criminal laws in Nigeria fall under state jurisdiction.
According to her, these laws contribute to a rising number of offenders, exacerbating prison congestion and placing a greater burden on the Federal Government to support inmates.
Adeoye proposed a solution involving encouraging states to establish their correctional facilities. She also pointed out that many of these state laws emphasize custodial measures, despite the Nigerian Correctional Service Act providing provisions for non-custodial sanctions as alternatives to imprisonment.
She highlighted that a significant portion of the prison population consists of individuals awaiting trial, with approximately ninety per cent of them being offenders of state laws. This situation results in a substantial financial burden on the Federal Government, which has to provide for these inmates.
- In her words, “We have a large number of awaiting trial inmates in Nigeria, about 70 per cent of people in prison are awaiting trial and we also have data that 90 per cent of people we find in our facilities are actually state offenders.
- “That is because most of the criminal laws are state laws and so this is an issue that needs to be addressed because we cannot have the Federal Government just taking care or feeding people that are incarcerated, even though many of them are state offenders.
- “I think there is also data to show that billions of Naira is being spent by the Federal Government on feeding these inmates.
- “So we are hopeful that at the end of this conversation today, we will have a trajectory as to where to go in terms of the management of state corrections in Nigeria.”
Stakeholders suggestions for tackling prison overcrowding
Adeoye suggested that states consider incorporating local and state sanctions into their legal measures, to divert cases away from the criminal justice system.
- In her words, “Some states have non-custodial sanctions, but the challenge has been with implementation, meaning working with the other arms of the criminal justice system to ensure it is in front of alternatives to incarceration.
- “So we need to begin to invite measures like restorative justice, measures that would divert cases that should not enter the criminal justice system away from the system.”
Mr Lazarus Apir, Advocacy Manager, Strengthening Civic and Local Engagement (SCALE), a project supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), noted that having the correctional service exclusively managed by the Federal Government for an extended period has been a disadvantage.
He emphasized that involving states in correctional services, as proposed through constitutional amendments, is a step in the right direction and necessitates these important decisions, particularly because this is a new concept for the states.
- In his words, “So with the amendment to the constitution, getting the states involved in correctional services is of course the way to go.
- “So we felt the need that this kind of conversation needs to happen because it’s new to the states.’’
CGC Nababa calls for swift justice and collaboration to ease prison congestion
The Controller-General of Corrections (CGC), Haliru Nababa, conveyed his appreciation for the dialogue initiative, represented by Assistant Controller-General of Corrections Manu Dunbulwa.
Nababa emphasized that expediting the justice process, especially for state offences, which often involve minor crimes, is key to prison decongestion.
He urged State Attorneys General and Commissioners for Justice to collaborate in addressing this issue, ensuring swift prosecution and sentencing of those found guilty while promptly releasing those not proven guilty.
- “The state offences are mostly ordinary theft, but those ones that keep people in custody for long is culpable homicide punishable with death.
- “State Attorneys General and Commissioner for Justice will have to chip in to see how they can tackle all this particular problem.
- “If somebody has committed a crime and is taken into custody, let him be prosecuted urgently. If he is found guilty, let him be sentenced, if not, let him just be released.
- “However, if someone is accused of committing an offence and it is not established, let the prosecutor, the police, the state justice, the chief judge and the other stakeholders do the needful. For him now to stay long is what brings about this delay in dispensation of justice,” he said.