The Nigerian Correctional Service Act: A ray of hope.
After awaiting trial for 10 years and finally getting convicted, Sule is discharged from prison. With no means of survival, no home to return to, Sule survives by the rules of the street: stealing, killing, and destroying. He ends up in prison a few months later and the story repeats itself.
Sule represents a large percentage of the thousands of pretrial detainees, convicts, and ex-convicts in Nigeria. A ray of hope? Maybe.
Prisons are public institutions established by the government for the rehabilitation and reformation of individual offenders who are at a breach of the law. Prison is viewed as a physical structure within a specific geographical location that affords a unique kind of social environment that is different from the larger society where people live according to specialized conditions. All over the world, prisons are established to serve as rehabilitation and reformatory institutions with the ultimate goal of re-orientating and reforming inmates, so that they could come out as useful members of the society. This institution was established to support the criminal justice system in which criminal offences are confined pending the final conviction decision is taken to determine the guilt or innocence of the accused person. Subsequently, incarceration in the event of being found guilty is implemented. People who have been charged or convicted of one criminal offence or more are expected to get re-oriented and become fit to live in the society when they leave prison.
Brief Background of the Prison (Correctional) System in Nigeria.
A background of the prison system is necessary to have a solid basis on which an analysis can be made:
Historically, prisons originated from the English workhouse under the Tudor family in the 1550s, and afterward, a royal family palace known as Bride well in England was converted into workhouse prisons in 1570. These workhouses or prisons were badly maintained and the wardens were often negligent to prisoners’ needs. Several prisoners died of typhus, malnutrition, and other means. In 1777, the State of the prisons in England was criticized as being unorganized, unhygienic, and importantly as a means of punishment rather than rehabilitation. This also extended to the American prisons and reformation of prison agendas in various societies started to form. The call for the reform of the Nigeria Prison Services (now Nigerian Correctional Services) became a perennial thing as successive governments failed to do anything tangible in that direction. The prison system in Nigeria is modeled after the British system which dates back to the colonial era. It is a system that emphasizes punishment and deterrence. The Nigerian prison system was established on three legislative frameworks that operate side by side. These include:
- The penal code and the accompanying criminal procedure code cap 81 laws of the federation 1990 (CPC);
- The criminal code and the accompanying criminal procedure Act Cap 80 laws of the federation (CPA) and
- The Sharia penal legislation in 12 Northern States of Nigeria which is only applicable to Muslims.
All prisons in Nigeria were managed by the Nigerian Prisons Service (NPS), a parastatal under the Ministry of Interior, headed by a Controller General of Prisons, who presides over the administration of all prison facilities. This was the situation until a new law changed the things. The new law; The Nigerian Correctional Service Act brought several innovations starting from changing the name from the Nigerian Prison Service to the Nigerian Correctional Service.
New Law, New Era, New Reforms: The Nigerian Correctional Service Act
In an Interview conducted on the 16th of August 2019, Mr. Francis Enobore, the Public Relations Officer of the Service, told News Agency of Nigeria said, “New prisons are being built; 3000-capacity facilities being built in different parts of the country. Between 2017 and 2019, we have commissioned 382 vehicles and it has eased the movement of inmates to and from the court. Drugs are now available to address any kind of ailment, except for some that are special and we always refer them to government hospitals for intervention,” he said.
Some notable implementations in the Act include:
- Allowing Comptrollers (Correctional service supervisors) to reject additional prisoners when the prison in question is already filled
- The law also addresses overcrowding by administering community service, parole, and meditation between the offender and the offended. This is so those convicted of minor or petty crimes can avoid prison.
There’s also an option for judges to change a death sentence to life imprisonment if an inmate sentenced to death has exhausted all appeals and 10 years have elapsed without the execution of the sentence.
However, while the Law comes with beautiful innovations, more could still be done:
- At the Police Stage: Good Investigating and preventive policing initiative including surveillance, improved criteria and practice of police bail procedure, independent lay visit and other monitoring mechanisms, improved transportation of suspects to courts, and adoption of pre-trial diversion measures.
- At the judiciary stage: improved court bail criteria and practice, the efficiency of court/law officers (including the speedy recording of court proceedings, and appointment of more judges and magistrates) improved legal aid criteria and practice, the introduction of bail information scheme to improve bail decisions, supervision and support scheme for those on bail, use of bail hostels, alternative to pre-trial detention (including the introduction of pre-trial victim-offender mediation, etc).
- At the prison stage: improvement of communication and information on awaiting trial/remand prisoners, independent lay visits and other monitoring mechanisms, regular utilization of the decongestion committees at the state level, transportation of defendants to courts. Strategic action in the following critical areas of concern, namely: Indiscriminate Arrest; Inadequate Investigation before Arrest; Abuse of the right to bail and the bail procedure; Lack of (quality) Legal Representation;
- Allowances should be made that avail them educational, vocational, and recreational activities in prison, which facilities are not available to them, presently.
- Adequate provisions should be made for them to enjoy the minimum comforts that convicted prisoners currently enjoy, as in mattresses, sufficient space and ventilation in their cells, and longer ‘open up’ periods.
The Journey of a thousand miles begins with a step, The Nigerian Correctional Service Act is a step in the right direction. However, if the innovations above are implemented, the journey will be shorter than a thousand miles.
- Achu AA, Owan EJ, Ekok OC (2013) The impact of prison reform on the welfare of Inmates. A case study of Afonkong prison Calabar, Cross River State, Nigeria. Global Journal of Human social science sociology and culture 13: 1-7.
- Amnesty International (2008) Nigeria Criminal Justice System Utterly Failing Nigerian People. Amnesty International Press Release pp: 28-29.
- Amnesty International (2012) The State of the Nigerian Prisons. Amnesty International Press pp: 16-17.
- Ibrahim Z (2012) Nigerian Prisons: Death Traps or Reform Centers p: 26.
- McCorkle L, Korn R (1954) Resocialization within walls. The Annals of American Academy of Political Science 293: 88-98.
- Ogundipe AO (2011) Prison Amendment in Nigeria, Abuja. Federal Government of Nigeria pp: 28-40.