Time To Review Prison Administration | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Time To Review Prison Administration

Posted: Sep 1, 2016 at 1:34 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)


The recent incidents of prison break all over the country calls for serious review of the prison administration in Nigeria. No fewer than four prison breaks have reportedly occurred between June and August this year, with the most recent being the foiled Abakaliki prison break which claimed some lives of both inmates and prison warders. Kogi, Kuje and Nsukka are other prisons where jailbreaks were experienced in the last three months.

This rate is alarming compared to global statistics. While in Nigeria, the trend seems to be heading northward, in most of other climes it is downward and incidence of prison break is becoming rarer every year. Only in 2014 the Discovery Channel reported that “Prison escapes have decreased exponentially, according to statistics from the Bureau of Justice’’.

Reports from the foiled jailbreak in Abakaliki showed that the inmates complained of poor prison condition, overpopulation, and especially inadequate feeding and that this has been going on for a very long time. The motivations behind the other prison breaks may not be different from that of Abakaliki. There are also cases of people wrongfully or unlawfully imprisoned all over the prisons in Nigeria.

 Section 19 of the Prisons Act defines a prisoner as ‘any person lawfully committed to custody’. By the ruling of the Federal High Court, Enugu in the case of Edmund Okoro & Ors vs Minister of Internal Affairs & Ors, Suit No FHC/EN/CP/102/2000, a person becomes a prisoner from the date of his or her first admission into prison custody. It therefore means that any person in prison without Court ruling and without following step 2 under Regulations in the Prison Act is not a prisoner. This means Awaiting Trial Inmates who have been committed to custody by the Court are also prisoners.

However, while it is understandable that prisoners cannot enjoy certain rights while they are still serving their terms, the right to dignity of human person should never be violated regardless of the type and nature of crime committed by the prisoner. Experience in Nigeria has shown that once anyone is admitted into the prison, he loses his right to dignity of life. This is not the case in other climes. Apart from being punitive, prisons are also correctional centers. A situation where prisoners who complete their jail terms emerge more hardened should not be allowed to continue to fester.

Prisoners in Nigeria are poorly fed, most of the cells are only just slightly better than pigsty in terms of sanitary condition. Understandably, the apathy to the right and privileges of prisoners in Nigeria may have stemmed from the fact they are mostly hardened criminals, but there are quite a number of cases of people who have no business being in jail staying there for years! Prisons Regulations made pursuant to Section 15 state the type, quantity of food, health condition, bedding and clothing that prisoners are entitled to, but they are hardly adhered to! These are compelling motivations for prison breaks!

For as long as prisoners see staying in prison as a way of slowly dying, as against quick death if caught in an attempt to break jail, the country will continue to have jail breaks. The prison conditions must be improved in terms of food quality and quantity, population density and clothing. Right of remission of prisoners should also be respected. Every prison has a right of remission of sentence subject to Regulations 55 and 57 under the Prison Acts.

In the same vein, welfare of Prison Officials needs to be looked into. There have been reported cases of prison warders diverting food meant for prisoners and converting it for their own consumptions. This would not be the case if they are adequately and timely taken care.

Our trial system also needs to be reviewed in the ongoing judicial reform so as to ensure that the number of Awaiting Trial Inmates (ATMs) are reduced to the barest and eradicate the possibility of being detained beyond the number of years that the alleged offence carries.

We urge the Federal Government to immediately commence a review of Prison Administration in the country in order to stem the spate of prison breaks and to address cases of violation of fundamental human rights of prisoners.