The authorities should show greater resolve on the prisons' long-term problems
To say that the reports from our prisons are chilling is to state the obvious. The distress, the health conditions and the poor sanitary situation are demeaning and disgraceful. But we do not believe that the change of name from Nigerian Prisons Service to Nigerian Correctional Service as was done last week by President Muhammadu Buhari offers any practical solution.
Besides, with the main challenge being that of congestion, there is nothing correctional about Nigerian prisons. "Changing of name should not be the first phase of the proposed reform in the Nigerian Prisons. The level of social decadence in that institution is indeed alarming and unimaginable", said Dr Kayode Akinleye, a criminologist.
We agree with Akinleye that this cosmetic approach to handling a serious problem will not serve the nation well, especially when most of the people who go through Nigerian prisons come out either dehumanised or more hardened as criminals. One major recommendation from all previous reports on Nigerian prisons is that the Police should review the method and manner in which charges are brought to court.
Investigation of crimes should be within a stipulated period of time before charges are proffered before courts of competent jurisdictions to avoid unnecessary delay in the trial of offenders. There were recommendations that the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and the civil societies should be challenged to encourage their members to offer pro bono services to awaiting trial inmates while the government should provide the enabling environment for the provision of such services.
Prison officials are also expected to be constantly trained and retrained on the relevant standards with respect to treatment of inmates in accordance with human rights norms and practices. Modern working tools and logistics are to be provided them so they can discharge their duties efficiently and effectively.
Besides, adequate and decent barracks should also be provided for prison staff, consistent with the dignity of their persons while their salaries and allowances should be paid regularly and as at when due to boost their morale and enhance productivity. Provision should be made for recreational and vocational facilities both for awaiting trial inmates and those that are already convicted. To this effect, the necessary institutional arrangements should be made by government to accommodate this change. This is to avoid the situation whereby ATPs leave the prisons in a worse state than they were when they entered.
It is recommended that part of proceeds realised from the sale of materials produced by prison inmates should be kept for after-care services on release. This is to avoid a situation where inmates are released with nothing. In this regard, prison allowances should be reintroduced and given to inmates on gaining freedom. Finally, it has been suggested severally that prison inmates should be separated on the basis of age, health condition and nature of offence in all the prisons while remand homes should be designated for awaiting trial persons, instead of keeping them in the regular prison with convicts.
We believe that if some of these steps are taken by the government, they would go a long way in redressing not only the challenge of congestion but also that of other associated problems that have combined to make Nigerian prisons hell for most inmates. Thus, if the situation remains the same, the name change would be nothing but an exercise in self-deceit. What is urgently needed is a wholesale reform of the prisons.