Criminal justice system and overshoot of prison capacity

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THE Custodial Centres of the Nigerian Correctional Service NCoS have overshot their combined carrying capacity of 58,278 by over 16, 000, a development that has continued to fuel aggression among inmates and overstretched the system. Speaking at the Second Controller-General of Corrections’ Retreat holding in Sokoto, the Controller General of Corrections (CGC), Haliru Nababa explained that the retreat aims to draw and outline a five-year direction for the service in line with the Ministerial retreat held in Ilorin, 2021. He said: “The NCoS maintains 244 facilities including 20 farm centres, 10 cottage industries, one open camp and four Borstal training institutions. “The current capacity of Nigerian Custodial Centres stands at 58,278 as against the population of over 75, 000 inmates. In recent times, the Nigerian Custodial Centres have experienced incessant attacks which were externally organized and executed. Drawing from the above explanations, the NCoS has taken the following measures: the formation and activation of the NCoS Rapid Response Team; Intelligence sharing with other security agencies as well as increasing their presence across Nigerian Custodial Centres; and sensitizing and encouraging state governments to implement Non-Custodial Measures.

I want to state that about 80 per cent of the inmates are on the awaiting trial list. They are held for minor and bailable offences but they are often never taken to court again after their first appearance. Therefore, they stay in over-crowded prisons for years, far more than the period they would have served if they had been taken court, tried and convicted. They live in overcrowded and degrading conditions, ravaged by disease and hunger and psychologically ruined. Do not blame Rauf Aregbesola, Minister of Interior but the judiciary system for the continuous correctional facilities congestion due to slow pace of dispensing justice in Nigeria. The correctional service officials should not be blamed for lapses at the correctional yards because they have alerted the authority especially the judiciary on the congestion. Correctional Centres officials make monthly updates to the Attorney General both in the states and federation on the challenges and the situation has not been addressed over the years. Every Month, the service write to the Attorney General to update them the development on the number of inmates and congestion situation but it has remained like that.”

The officials worked under pressure to ensure that the prisons are not congested, adding that, sometimes they had to transport the inmates to various courts with their money on daily basis. Judges and chief magistrates should obey the law by visiting detention facilities regularly in a bid to decongest the facilities.  Judges and Chief Magistrates to Conduct Monthly Inspection of All Police Stations and Other Detention Facilities in Nigeria,”. Referring to section 34 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015 which requires Chief Judges of the Federal High Court, Federal Capital Territory High Court and State High Courts to assign judges and chief magistrates to conduct monthly visitation and inspection of all police stations and other detention facilities in all the states of the federation and the FCT. The purpose of this Practice Direction is to carry into effect and ensure compliance with the Overriding Objective of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 as expressed in section 1(1) of that Act, particularly in: ensuring efficiency and speed in the case management of criminal trials and dispensation of justice, protecting the interests and fundamental human rights of the defendant, victim, witnesses and society; particularly the right to fair hearing, and ensuring active participation of all parties to focus on matters that are genuinely in issue for trial thereby reducing delays and expense at trials.

This Practice Directions shall apply to all criminal trials in the Magistrates Courts, High Courts, Upper Area Courts and other courts that try criminal cases in the Federal Capital Territory. The directive of the National Judicial Council, is not adhered \by many judicial authorities hence, the incessant arrest, detention, and torture of citizens by the police and other security agencies. “However, the newly enacted Nigeria Police Act, 2020 has imposed a duty on all chief magistrates and judges to conduct monthly visitation and inspection of all police stations and other detention facilities within their territorial jurisdiction other than correctional centres. Section 70 (1) also says the Chief Magistrate, or where there is no chief magistrate within the police division, any magistrate designated by the Chief Judge for that purpose, shall at least every month, conduct an inspection of police stations or other places of detention within his territorial jurisdiction other than the prison,” a section of the statement read. The law holds that during a visit, the magistrate may call for and inspect, the record of arrests, direct the arraignment of the suspect and where bail has been refused, grant bail to any suspect, where appropriate, if the offence for which the suspect is held is within the jurisdiction of the magistrate.

It is left for the judiciary to activate and implement the provisions of the law in order to end the incessant arrest and prolonged detention of the Nigerian people without any further delay. “We are of the strong view that if all detention facilities in the country are henceforth regularly inspected by judges and chief magistrates as stipulated by the law, the people of Nigeria will no longer be subjected to illegal arrest and detention by the police and other security agencies. In particular, there will be no basis for #EndSARS and any similar campaign either now or in future. We are therefore compelled to call on judges and chief magistrates to carry out their duties under section 70 of the Police Act,” he said. I must blame the menace of correctional centres congestion on the nature of the criminal justice system in Nigeria despite the fact there is limited funding. Criminal justice system encompasses all the paraphernalia of the justice system in Nigeria; ranging from police, court, correctional centres and other law enforcement agencies.

  • Donald writes via inwalomhe.donald@yahoo.com

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