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Date Published: 07/06/10

Mr. President, address the system of imprisonment without trial in Nigeria By John Oshodi

The incarceration system in Nigeria has been under scrutiny by the Human Rights advocates for several years. No reasonable person quarrels with the Correctional system for responsively holding offenders at various incarnation settings in order to prevent further crimes.

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The Nigeria Prison Service leadership to its strength is preventing further disorder in an already chaotic-style society by being able to maintain a prison structure for some persons who are further capable destabilizing an already highly challenged society. 

 The present correctional management is reportedly functioning as best as it could within the human and financial resources that have come their way in the last decade.

Mr. President, the specific issue that currently befalls the Penal system in Nigeria revolves around the legal system, from the arrest period of a suspect, the period of imposing a  charge (s) and the final disposition of the case. Mr. President, there is a lack of unified jail/prison effectiveness with regard to utilization systems.

Let’s take the case of the now 41 years old Okechukwu Uju who at age 18 was reportedly arrested for an alleged crime of armed robbery.

Mr. President, it is now 23 years he is reportedly still a detainee. He is not in a jail but in a prison.  In this regard, the Nation is failing its citizenry by acting in line with the period of the dark ages with regards to what everyone needs to know about various levels/systems of confinement.

Mr. President, there is a basic difference between Jail and Prison. The jail in every rational and contemporary society operates on a short term basis while the prison is all about long-term punishment.

By designation, jails are locally operated by municipalities or local councils. As a matter of fact, leasing or allowing professional Private Corporations to set up, manage or operate Jails in various towns is currently the practice in highly populated societies like Nigeria.

Jails are used to hold individuals waiting for trial, or in the middle of legal proceedings,   and certainly they are not located within the prison environment.

Jails in many cases, serve as settings for serving a short term sentence, as in 364 days or less than a year.

 The Prison by designation operates as a State and Federal penal system where convicted felons (not misdemeanor convicts) are kept for at least a year or beyond. Both Jails and Prisons are supposed to have up-to- date classification, therapeutic and mental health system to help in the areas of reentry of the mentally ill into the society and in the discharge of inmates.

Mr. President, Okechukwu Uju and thousands of other lookalike of Mr Uju are awaiting trial not in jails as it is supposed to be, but in prisons.

 Good Lord, why? Mr. President, in the interest of the principle of democratic governance, Why?

 This decade of legal mismanagement which covers the penal and correctional scheme requires national attention through your immediate input.

Let it be known that jails in most reasonable societies help to address the educational, substance abuse, vocational and social skills needs of detainees. Jails sometimes operate specialized services like work release programs.

On the other hand, the prison setting has minimum, medium and maximum custody levels for felons. Convicts who are almost completing their sentences in prison are sometimes placed in prison-operated halfway houses, community-based restitution programs and in work release centers. At times, some are placed on Parole, an arrangement of Aftercare monitoring and supervision upon release from prison.

Each Nigerian local government or as it is now done in a highly stressed society like Nigeria, Private organizations should operate and manage at least a local jail facility in each municipality. Nigeria currently has about 774 local Government Councils and a system of privatized jails under the watch of competent local and state administrations could boost labor and standards of management.

Jails, as part of their functions, also hold criminal violators awaiting trial, house persons revoked of their probation status or serve those under short term sentences.

Jail locations are usually outside the prison settings, and aims to reduce over crowdedness and help avoid the mixing of detainees with various charges with felony convicts on severe, corporal or capital-related punishment.

In a county where there is a dysfunctional system of telecommunication, poorly codified street/home address and poorly lit roads, adequate House arrest and Probation systems could be complicated. However, these alternatives remain essential as they will make the correctional system function better and help reduce the pattern of making prisons dumping ground especially, for those with little means.

The Nigerian courts are overburdened by lack of adequate system of court administration, as such they are not able to account fully for the status of a case, or track a case as the availability of modern clerical, technical and professional functions and services remain unattainable. The result is unbearable prison backlog for persons in the middle of legal proceedings.

Mr. President, just to reiterate, in any functional society an arrested person becomes a suspect; he or she is briefly detained in a police cell for investigative and reporting purposes, and possibly charged for a crime and then brought to the court setting.

Mr. President, in addition to the fine line drawn between a Jail and a Prison, the detention of minors/children in prisons which are mostly full of adults is cruel and sadistic at best.

Mr. President, it is time for a workable office of policy and management with regard the collective legal operations of the country.

As the Senate President, David Mark recently noted, Nigerian professional and service providers are always attending one form of workshop or seminar but what is needed now are action plans and practical effects of these trainings.

Also, given the state of the overly stressed correctional system in Nigeria, some recipients of these seminars are not able to become functional workers, as such idleness, and laziness sets as demonstrated by the Nigerian vocational pattern of ‘just sitting down’ waiting for closing time.

To make the Nigerian legal and criminal justice system manageable the pouring in money into the system, is not always the answer. In that any money poured into the sub-areas of the police, court, jail, prison systems should evidence tangible outcomes

The judicial branch, with the help of less stressed and competent legal workers (e.g.  clerks, defense lawyers, prosecutors, magistrates, judges, and others), must learn to divert less serious offenders to community-type treatment, punishment or placement, instead of the magistrate’s or judge’s usual verbal sounding  to the attending police or prison officer “take him away”.

There is no question that in a continuously transitioning society like Nigeria, where institutional resources are sometimes personalized or grossly misused a myriad of chaotic practices will continue.

As a consequence the pitiable understanding and poor utilization of a common sense police-judicial-correctional system will remain.

In effect, just like most areas of Nigerian public systems, the hidden cost of a failed legal system will continue to be reflected in the correctional system.

And no matter how much money is spent on the correctional system, as long as the police and the courts remain or refuse commonsense approach of arresting, detaining, and charging a suspect, the Nigerian confinement system will remain contaminated with congestion, stagnation, degradation and injustice.

Therefore, leaving more of the Okechukwu-look alike in a ‘back door Nigeria’, that is, the Prison where multi-dimensional challenges flourish at all times.

 John Egbeazien Oshodi, Ph.D, DABPS, FACFE  is a licensed Forensic/Clinical Psychologist and the Associate Dean of the Behavioral Science, North Campus, Broward College, Coconut Creek, Florida. joshodi@broward.edu

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