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How the Nigerian Correctional Service Act has brought positive reforms – Njoku

How the Nigerian Correctional Service Act has brought positive reforms – Njoku

Kingsley Njoku is the 22nd Controller of the Nigerian Correctional Service, Imo State Command. He has attended various professional courses such as the 14th Assistant Superintendent of Corrections (ASC) Basic Course, Controllers of Corrections Advance Command Course, 5th CSC Development Course, Train the Trainers Course, Deputy Controllers of Corrections Command Course, Controller of Corrections Advance Command Course, among others. In this interview with Saby Elemba, through the PRO of the Command, Goodluck Uboegbulam, he, among other issues, said that the reforms made in the NCoS have brought decongestion and condemned the stigmatisation against people who have left the Correctional Service. Excerpts:

The Imo State Command says that the NCoS Act 2019 has brought some reforms in the Service, including decongestion in the custody centres across the country; could you talk to us about the reforms?

The Controller was taking about the signing of the bill into law. The Act was signed into law on the 31st of July 2019, changing the name from the Nigerian Prison Service to Nigerian Correctional Service. And it was from that bill the new Correctional Service was divided into two parts, namely the custodial and non-custodial services.

The custodial service, as you know, is the usual situation where people who run afoul of the law are brought into custody to await trial before they are convicted and also given sentences if/when convicted. The non-custodial service is a new angle where the accused person is given some work or duty or services to do. It is divided into community service, parole, probation and restorative justice. These are the four major arms of the non-custodial service and the most prominent among the four is the community service.

What is the main reason or essence of the non-custodial service?

The major essence of the non-custodial service is to decongest the custodial centres in the country.

Could you tell us what the situation was like before the NCoS Act 2019 came into being?

Before the new Act became law, what it used to be was that any person that got to the court and if the court could not finish whatever they were doing and suspected that the accused person might not come back on the adjourned date, the next thing was that he would be reminded in prison custody. But now, when the courts look into the matter and discovered that the case is a minor case, like affray, disturbance of public peace, or sanitation offenses, etc, in these trivial offences, the courts can say, you go into community service for one month or more.

Could you please, cite a typical example you can remember?

Yes, a typical example is what the court did to an actress, Funke, during the COVID-19. Yes, it was as a result of this law that she didn’t enter into the custodial centre. She was asked to sweep either the court premises or a market place.

How would you know that the convict is doing the service?

While the individual is carrying out this service, people will see him/her. And people will also realise that he had done something wrong but not a crime per say but something against the law of the land. It will make the person to repent in his or her mind and refrain from doing such a thing. And as it stands now, not everybody is dragged into custody centre.

There is still stigmatisation against those who were previously in our Correctional Service custody. Is this perceived or open show of stigma by the society acceptable, knowing that some of them may become better citizens?

It is a wrong perception. Now, this perception of the public that anybody that has gone to prison is regarded as the worse of the human being is very, very wrong. But the truth is this, there are many people who have run afoul of the law in one way or the other, who are also walking freely on our roads and the long arm of the law has not caught up with them. They see themselves as saints and better than those who have gone to the custodial centres and were reformed. Most of them who have been reformed now live a good lifestyle, contributing meaningfully to the society, socially and economically. The custodial centre currently is no longer punitive but correctional in its approach. So, any one that goes into the custodial centre, comes there for him or her to be corrected, even though there are few when they come out from the Correctional Service custody remain what they are.

So, anyone that comes out from the Correctional Centre, the public should not stigmatise the individual. Rather see the individual as one who has gone to receive tutorials and who has gone to receive trainings to live a better life within the society and that is how it should be.

Most of the people who come into the Correctional Service custody within the new Correctional Act come out with a renewed mindset. They come out with a prepared perception of life, a lot come out with skills acquired while in custody and become better persons, contributing meaningfully to our society. With the National Open University, someone may come into the custodial centre without knowing properly how to read and write and stays there and gets university degrees; some get masters degrees and doctorate degrees as the case may be. Now the custodial centre is a centre for NECO, a centre for WAEC; the inmate can stay there and sits for the first degree, sit for the second degree and PhD. So, the public should see the people coming out from the custodial centre as changed individuals, as renewed persons who can be change agents within our society.

Recently, you unveiled ‘Information not Disinformation’ campaign initiated by the Correspondents’ Chapel of the NUJ, Imo State Council. What does the partnership mean to you as a security officer?

Yes, it is a step in the right direction, aimed at effective partnership with the security agencies in Imo State to fight insecurity through responsive journalism and accurate reporting. The campaign will help to correct wrong impressions about the NCoS. We pledge our readiness for productive engagement to stem the tide of disinformation in the fight against insecurity. Now, apart from insecurity, the greatest problem in Nigeria is disinformation because, while security agencies are doing their best, members of the public are being deceived about our efforts in some sections of the media. The NCoS in Imo is doing a lot in the areas of support for the inmates and their integration into the larger society through sponsorship of skills acquisition, trainings, academic pursuits, among others.