Focus on non-custodial sentences to decongest prisons – CSOs

SOME civil society organisations (CSOs) have called on the Nigerian government to focus on non-custodial measures that will allow convicts serve prison sentences outside detention facilities.

This, the CSOs posited, would hasten decongestion of custodial centres in the country.

Representatives of CSOs who were present at the launch of a ‘Five-Year Impact Report and Strategic Plan’ by Hope Behind Bars Africa (HBBA) on Wednesday, June 14, decried the congestion of correctional facilities in Nigeria and its economic impact on the country.

Speaking at the event, the Programme Coordinator, Legend Golden Care Foundation, Ogonna Okeke, said non-custodial sentences could serve as a short-term means of decongesting correctional facilities in Nigeria.

Okeke said, “There is advocacy for correctional facilities to move towards adopting non-custodial measures. These measures are sentencing that allow convicted people to serve their sentences outside of the custodial centres.

“Not every crime needs to be punished with incarceration. Someone commits a petty offence, you can sentence them to community service instead of throwing them into custodial centres.”

She noted that there should be more advocacy for speedy trials, as many criminal cases often span decades, leaving suspects in prolonged detention, and putting a strain on the nation’s resources.

The Legal Aid Officer at the Legal Aid Council of Nigeria, Jenny-Joyce Bob Samson-Akpan, also decried the continued grant of remand orders by lower courts without starting the trial process.

“We find that law enforcement agencies use this means to get people into custodial centres and they spend a lot of time investigating cases. Instead of charging these people and making sure that the case is brought to a conclusion, they spend time on investigation while the suspects continue rotting in prison,” Samson-Akpan said.

The Executive Director, Hope Behind Bars Africa, Oluwafunke Adeoye, noted that defendants are often presumed guilty before trial, leading to long imprisonments, and indigent members of the public mostly fall victim due to a lack of access to proper legal representation, a challenge Adeoye said the HBBA is working to address.

She said the death penalty that obtains in Nigeria is against International Human Rights Laws and treaties to which the country is a signatory.

“In a country like Nigeria with a justice system that has several challenges, the death penalty is final when it is done. It cannot be changed. And so if there is room for a shadow of doubt that something might have gone wrong in the process of trial and prosecution, then we should be very careful with imposing something final like the death penalty on people,” she said.

A member, Board of Trustees, HBBA, Stanley Ibe, said most convicts end up in prison mainly due to poverty.

Ibe noted that the incarceration of suspects due to petty offences amounts to a penalisation of poverty, which also has adverse socio-economic effects on citizens.

“If you have a male household leader in prison and the entire family is dependent on him, the entire family is impacted.




     

     

    “There are lots of institutions arresting people on a daily basis and not enough checks in those institutions to make sure that when people go past those institutions, they are actually people who should be going past the institutions,” he said.

    In May 2023, The ICIR reported that over 52,000 inmates were awaiting trial in Nigerian custodial centres, according to the Federal Ministry of Interior, which contributed to overpopulation of the facilities nationwide.

    Congestion of correctional facilities consumes a significant part of Nigeria’s revenue.

    The budget to feed prison inmates in 2023 is N22.44 billion, more than 1 per cent of the year’s N21.83 trillion budget, and much of which will be funded by international loans.

    Ijeoma Opara is a journalist with The ICIR. Reach her via [email protected] or @ije_le on Twitter.

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