Presidential Committee On Prisons Reform and Decongestion Visits Anambra State Prison, Releases 23 Inmates

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Federal Government of Nigeria

-Frowns at undue justice delay

The Chairman, Presidential Committee on Prisons Reform and De-congestion and Chief Judge of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court, Hon. Justice Ishaq Bello has frowned at the challenges of undue confinement of inmates in prisons for several years without their cases been heard in Court, while berating the practice of holding charge issued by Magistrate on cases they lack jurisdiction to try.

The Chairman expressed the displeasure when he led his Committee on Prison De-congestion to Anambra State recently, being the 16th State visited in continuation of its mandate across the country.

He urged the State Chief Judge to address these challenges by ensuring speedy trials, noting that the practice was one of the reasons for the high rate of psychosis among the prisoners, who had lost all hope in the system. He therefore advised the prison officials to regularly take the inmates to court and ensure that the Registrar of the Court gives them a return date at all times.

The Chairman also informed the gathering of efforts made to ensure the passage of the Administration of Criminal Justice law, thus he was glad that Anambra State has one, which is in the process of being reviewed according to the State Attorney- General.

At the Anambra Prison, a total of twenty-three cases where treated. Seven convicts of minor offences with option of fine were released; one of them, a 19 year old SS3 student, serving 3 years imprisonment at the Aguata medium security prison, whose sentence had an option of fine, admitted to the Committee, that he had stolen money in order to pay for his exam fee. Due to the fact that he is very young and remorseful, and the fact that he was willing to return to school to write his WAEC examination, he was released. The Attorney-General of the State promised that the State would pay his exam fees.

Inmates who had been incarcerated for 5 years and above at the Nnewi prison without legal representation, were brought before the Committee. The Chairman urged the Legal Aid representative to ensure that the 7 inmates got legal representation so that they could resume appearance in court for their trials.

However, the Committee could not release a lot of the inmates, due to the fact that their crimes were capital in nature and drug related offences. The Chairman lamented the high rate of drug abuse by youths, which is ruining their future, by luring them into crime.

He enjoined the government to improve the health facilities in the various prisons and ensure that inmates with mental conditions and communicable diseases,were quarantined and given appropriate treatment.

Justice Bello urged the Government to articulate ways to absorb inmates who had acquired skills and education while in prison, back into the society, noting that failure to do so would be dangerous because the released inmates may likely to develop more sophistication in committing crimes against the society. He emphasized on the need for some reforms such as christening the Nigerian Prisons with a new name that symbolizes it as a Correctional institution. He also stated that the prisoners be given a level playing ground in the job market, thus discrimination against convicts will be eradicated.

The Executive Governor of Anambra State, Willie Obiano commended the Chairman for his contribution to the reform of the Justice System in Nigeria. He stated that the State was very concerned about what he called ‘recycled criminals’ and the unwillingness of witnesses to come forward in court trials.

He therefore advised that there was an urgent need for the review of the witness protection programme in Nigeria. He disclosed to the Committee, the commendable work being undertaken by the State towards rehabilitating not just prisoners, but also mentally challenged persons, all over the State.

The Governor expressed his willingness to act on recommendations from the Controller of Prisons, Anambra State, concerning the sick and mentally challenged inmates as well as Nursing Mothers towards ensuring that they are all properly rehabilitated.

Igboamalu Ogochukwu

For; Deputy Director