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We Need A Holistic Prison Reform Now

By on November 4, 2011

A society’s civilization can be appraised on the way their prisons are. We as civilized people are expected to treat prisoners with understanding and affection. We can only accomplish this by appreciating and accepting their basic human right and fundamental right. A prisoner remains a human being whether convicted or under trial.

But our prisons are a far cry from anything civil. We need to find out the status of our prisons as the Controller-General of Nigeria Prison Services (NPS); Mr. Olusola Ogundipe raised a fresh alarm that 34,328 Awaiting-Trial-Inmates (ATM) are being illegally detained in different prisons across the country. And no fewer than 17,164 of the affected ATM, according to the NPS boss, had spent between five to 17 years in various prisons in different parts of the country without trial. According to the Amnesty International report, 65% of the people in Nigerian prisons have never been convicted of any crime. Conversations regarding transfer of Nigeria prisoners overseas will only engender chaos.

Specifically, these prisons are overcrowded. And this affects the health of prisoners. It serves to promote brutality and instead of reforming these inmates, they end up worse than they were before. This is a signature result of overcrowding: there is no segregation among convicts. They are all mounted on each other, both those punished for serious offences and for minor.

And this has compounded one of the main purposes of reforming inmates. As dangerous criminals transfer their influence over others, minor offenders are getting mixed up with others and we cannot discount the fact that they can be spoilt.

More so, we have to comply with the need to provide healthy food and clothing to them always. And there is the issue of the vices which is related to sexual urge. This remains unsatisfied because of abrupt stoppage of marital life of the prisoners. We suggest something be done to keep the family life going, as sexual frustration is rampant and extreme.  Communication with the outside world should be improved too.

Appallingly, inmates suffer from inferior diet and the atmosphere which appeared to nurture violence and criminality should be transformed to an enhanced living condition. Also, major effort by government and NGOs should generate employment for them so after they have served term they can fit into society again. Employment should be worth the while remunerative and so should education be encouraged and dignity restored.

Finally, the display of callousness or maltreatment in prisons should stop.  We prevailed on the authorities to find creative ways to manage our overcrowded prisons and pursue the goal of decongestion of prisons with alacrity. Working prisoners must be well compensated to increase their hope of savings while government should improve the welfare of the managers of prisons. We demand the undoubted right of speedy trial of under trial prisoners. We should remember society’s obligation towards prisoners, which is same access to medical expertise that free citizens have. Improving the socio-economic conditions of Nigerians is also a proactive way in the prison reform process.