Across the country, facilities of the now Nigeria Correctional Service (until recently known as the Nigerian Prisons Service) are so decrepit, over-populated and in disrepair, all crying for attention. Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola is set to work in order to meet the new focus of the federal government as set through the enactment of the new law and the name change.
Rauf Aregbesola as Minister for Interior would invest in technology in order to implement the new act to solve the myriad of challenges facing the service. The biggest challenge we have in prison is congestion. There are different ways Aregbesola will implement the new act to help in the issue of decongesting the prison. The first is the non-custodial measures such as probation and community service, which would play major roles in decongesting the prison.
Rauf Aregbesola will help the federal government to relieve the cost of feeding prison inmates, providing medical care and other services. More importantly, those on death row, numbering more than 2,100 across the country, and who should be held in special prisons meant for them (because they are usually violent and difficult to control), would then be easier to handle.
What it means is that instead of having people with less infraction like assault and battery, traffic offenders, street hawkers and the like tried and sentenced to imprisonment, which overpopulates the facilities, we will now adopt alternatives to custodial sentencing like community service. The offender can be asked to clean gutters, clear public cemetery and work in the public hospitals or render similar services that would be of interest to the general public and equally be useful to himself and his family because they would be coming from their houses to serve the punishment.
The rot in the system also manifested in the skill acquisition centre where inmate were expected to be trained in carpentry, welding, tailoring and other vocations to complete the reformation cycle. The whole place has become moribund.
The forgoing is one major area that the custodial service would have much work to do because inmate granted pardon or who completed their prison terms, always go home alienated from the people and seen as outcasts by the public.
Aregbesola will critically examine the prisons which have over the years gained notoriety for restiveness, arising mainly from the appalling living conditions of the inmates. Of the 65,000 inmate population, 72 per cent are said to be awaiting trial, while 28 per cent are convicted. Because of the way our constitution is crafted, prison is on the exclusive legislative list, under the control of the federal government. So state governments really don’t care and magistrates just keep sending people to prison and the federal government continues to pay; and for the federal government, nobody is really asking questions about how much is going into servicing the prisons.
On the new law’s provision for the use of non-custodial sentencing, Aregbesola will provide reliable data that would not pose a challenge. The Correctional Services Act can work effectively and some attention will be paid to other aspect of our national life.The non-custodial measures such as community service, probation, parole etc., may work effectively with a reliable data of every person in Nigeria.
If we have reliable information on people we can effectively trace them when they abscond. Furthermore, technologies like trackers need to be adopted to effectively track those on parole, for instance, to prevent them from escaping justice. To achieve its main aim of reforming inmate, the prisons, most of which are old, needed infrastructural upgrade.
Rauf Aregbesola will consider infrastructural upgrade and training and retraining of correctional officers for the new act to have any effect. In order for the act to fulfill its aim of reforming, rehabilitating and reintegrating offenders, there needs to be fewer people in our overcrowded prisons and adequate officials, coupled with the provision of state-of-the-art training facilities. This will ensure that most inmate can benefit from educational and vocational training, which will be of immense benefit to them after their release.
For instance, as a direct response to the overcrowded prisons, the law in Section 12 (8) empowers the State Controller of Correctional Service to reject the intake of additional inmate where the facility under his watch is filled to capacity.
The Section 12(8) read: “Without prejudice to subsection (4), the state controller of correctional service, in conjunction with the correctional centre superintendent, shall have the power to reject more intakes of inmate where it is apparent that the correctional centre in question is filled to capacity.”
In the same vein, the law also made a strong case for the use of non-custodial sentencing for minor offenders instead of sending them to already overcrowded jails.
Inwalomhe Donald, Abuja