Jailbreaks: Lawyers call for rehabilitation, reformation of prisons

EMINENT lawyers in the country have urged the Federal Government to take proactive steps in the rehabilitation and reformation of the prison system in Nigeria, so as to forestall incidences of jail breaks in the country and also ensure the decongestion of the prisons.
Some of the lawyers attributed the problems of prisons, to the lip service paid to the prison system generally in the country, stressing that such indifference had caused more harm than good.
Chief Felix Fagbohungbe, SAN, blamed the spate of jail breaks in the country, on the neglect by government, for the prison system.
He noted that the prison was set up to serve as a rehabilitation centre for inmates, and so, deserved adequate attention, adding that government had lost concern for this purpose.
Fagbonhungbe also stressed the need to relocate prisons, so as to create adequate accommodation for inmates.
“Some of these prisons have old structures and were built years ago, with a minimal capacity; but as time progresses, the number of criminal cases increases, and so, the prison cannot house the same number of inmates.
“The prison system has completely been abandoned by the government; they are overcrowded and the inmates are not given the necessary attention. The prison structures in place are in a bad shape; a prison that was built for about 500 inmates, now houses over 1000 inmates.
Adequate planning
There is no discipline in the prison; the warders are not motivated in terms of remuneration, and so, even the inmates given stipends to these warders who allow them have their way in custody.
“It therefore, follows that there is a need for adequate planning by the government, on ways to rehabilitate the prison system, to improve its standard. There is also the need to relocate prisons so as to cater for new development especially in terms of the growing population of inmates,” he said.
Fagbonhungbe also stressed the need to separate convicted criminals from those awaiting trial, in a bid to avoid breeding more hardened inmates, and forestall incidences of jail breaks. “Although the prison is not a place of rest, it however, requires certain minimum living standard for its inmates,” he said. Mr Olusina Sofola, SAN, is of the view that the prison system was not established specifically to punish, but to serve as a rehabilitation and corrective centre for the inmates.
“Where a prison meant to be occupied by about five inmates is now been occupied by 15 inmates, then you find a situation where a person accused of pick-pocketing is lumped alongside a convicted armed robber. The obvious consequence of this, is that these persons accused of minor offences may come out worse than they went in, because of the specie of inmates they met in custody.”
Sofola therefore, stressed the need for the prisons to be well funded, and adequate facilities provided, so as to ensure that the prison served its purpose of reforming inmates. Similarly, another lawyer, Mr Emeka Etiaba, urged Magistrates to carryout routine visits to the prisons, and conduct summary trials for inmates charged with simple offences.
He expressed dissatisfaction with the activities of inmates who use telecommunication services in the prisons, adding that this was a major factor which triggered jail breaks.
“One of the worst things that has happened to our prison system is allowing prisoners use mobile telephone. When you visit the prisons, you find these prisoners using telephone and that is why it is so easy for them to communicate with those with whom they plan these jail breaks.
“In a bid to forestall these incidences, there is the need to ban the use of telephones in prisons, and also, modernise the prison to take care of security lapses. Some of these prisons were constructed before the second world war.
“There is also a need to have human personnel guard the prisons; when you visit the prisons, you find few warders manning the prisons, and these can hardly stop any organised force from invading the prisons. Again, there is the need to decongest the prisons, and ensure adequate consideration for the prison staffs. “You find that in a prison with a capacity of 1000 inmates, there are about 3000, and out of this number about 97 per cent are awaiting trial; so, if we must forestall jail breaks, there must be a decongestion of the prisons. The Magistrates should also visit the prison at least twice a week and conduct summary trials, because some of these awaiting trial inmates, might have actually served more than the term they would have served if convicted,” he said. A lawyer and Civil rights activist, Mr Spurgeon Ataene, believes that jail breaks were an offshoot of the unpalatable condition of the prisons in the country.
“There are dilapidated structures in the prisons and these structures have been there for several decades. The prison system is supposed to be under the Federal Ministry of Interior, and so, there should be budgetry allocation to expand and rehabilitate the prisons.
“The use of phones by inmates in custody is one of the major causes of jail breaks in the country. Some of these prisoners plan their escape while in custody, through the use of these mobile phones. if there are no telecommunication system for these prisoners, how can they plan escape in custody? I think these inmates are being over indulged by the warders, and this should be a source of concern.
“I had earlier in the year petitioned the Chief Judge of Lagos State, then Justice Ayotunde Philips, on the need to ensure an efficient justice system, so I think there is more work to be done,” he said.
Ataene called on the government, to put in place adequate measures and planning, to reposition the prison system in the country.
A non governmental organisation, Rights and Accountability Initiative, RAAI, in a research on the state of the Kirikiri and Ikoyi prisons, Lagos, urged government to take necessary step in restructuring the prison system. Director of RAAI, Mr Tony Makolo, condemned the rising spate of jail breaks in the country, stressing the need for urgent measures to be taken.
In its recommendation, RAAI urged that the existing structural design of the prison be reformed, so as to enable inmates have access to better living standards.
It also urged the introduction of Information Communication Technology system, to capture the biometric data of inmates, as well as routine seminars for judiciary stakeholders, on prison practices, and the rights of inmates.
RAAI stressed the need for the adoption of Community services for first time offenders, in a bid to reduce the population of inmates.


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