• Thursday, April 25, 2024
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Bill to put correctional centres on concurrent list passes second reading

Prison

The House of Representatives has passed for second reading, a Bill to move Correctional Centers (Prisons) from exclusive to the concurrent list.

Sponsored by the House Spokesperson, Ben Kalu the Bill which seeks to decongest the prison system in the country scaled through second reading at plenary on Tuesday.

Leading the debate on the Bill, Kalu said the prisons in Nigeria cannot reform errant members of the society sent there for correction.

He stated that rather than being reformed and turning a new leaf, many offenders sent to the prisons turn out to become even more hardened.

Kalu argued that it is known that obsolete legislation, a slow justice system and inadequate funding are prominent on the list of challenges bedevilling the Nigerian prisons to reform locked-up inmates.

He explained that the new Nigerian Correctional Service Act which repealed and replaced the Prisons Act and consequently changed the name from the Nigerian Prisons Service to the Nigerian Correctional Service reflects the need for the reform of the system.

“The problem of prison congestion in the country is huge. For instance, the March 2019 edition of the Lagos State Criminal Information System revealed that though the five prisons in Lagos State have a combined holding capacity of 4,087, they were holding 9,044 inmates,” Kalu said.

He recalled that the former Controller of Prisons in Lagos State, Tunde Ladipo, said the Badagry Prison, which was built to house only a little over 100 inmates, was at a time locking over 700 inmates. Furthermore, it is instructive to note that there are 240 prisons in Nigeria with an official capacity of 50,153 inmates but currently holding over 74,000 inmates. ”

The lawmaker pointed out that overcrowding of prisons is a serious challenge and an obstacle to the implementation of the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, also known as Mandela Rules) adopted by the United Nations in 2015.

He said considering the Covid Protocols, especially of social distancing, one wonders how it would be applied in the correctional centres given the overcrowding it is currently experiencing.

However, Kalu noted that concerns have been raised about the practicability of Section 12(8), which empowered the State Controller of Correctional Service to reject additional inmates when the facility under his watch is full.

He said this particular provision is very unrealistic unless more prisons are built, considering our population as a country, and more particularly in urban areas like Lagos, Kano, Port Harcourt, Onitsha, Aba, etc.

The lawmaker said the way forward is for more prisons to be built, adding that achieving the total reform of the reformatory institutions in the country would never be possible except the nations take a deliberate and bold step towards building more reformatory centres and this can only be achieved by encouraging this federating unit to be part of the establishment and running of correctional facilities in their respective domains.

“To achieve this, there is a need to move “Prisons” from the Exclusive Legislative List to the Concurrent Legislative List, so that both the federal government and the states can share the burden of funding and administering the prison, now correctional centres,” he added.

“Once this is done, the federating units can cater for many of the inmates in prisons and correctional centres who committed or have been alleged to commit state offences and that of course will lessen the burden of the Federal Government. Making the States share in the responsibility of funding the prison would help to check indiscriminate imprisonment of people for minor offences created by state laws.”

Kalu explained that the Bill which comprises of three clauses primarily seeks to delete the word “Prison” as Item 48 on the Exclusive Legislative List, Part 1, Second Schedule to the Constitution and to provide for the establishment of Correctional Centres by the Federal and State Governments as new Item 31 on the Concurrent Legislative List, Part II, Second Schedule to the Constitution.