… Decries Level of Congestion, Calls on States to Invest in Corrections
From next year, the Federal Government will no longer bear the burden of the cost of feeding states’ inmates of correctional centres, formerly known as prisons. This disclosure was made by the Minister of Interior , Engr. Rauf Aregbesola.
The Minister made the announcement while shedding more light on some of the fallouts of the amended Corrections Act recently signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari on the ocassion of the commissioning of the Command Headquarters of the Nigerian Correctional Service (NCoS) in Owerri, the Imo State capital.
“By January 1, 2024, the Federal Government will stop feeding state inmates kept in federal facilities. State governments must now start budgeting for feeding their inmates in federal facilities while we wait for them to build their own facilities.”, Ogbeni Aregbesola said.
Aregbesola explained that with the removal of Correctional Service from the Exclusive Legislative list to the Concurrent List, states needed to fully exploit the amendment by investing in the Sector with a view to improve the condition of inmates in Custodial facilities across the nation.
He argued that this will help to further decongest the custodial facilities which currently harbour state offenders who make up more than 90 percent of the total number of inmates nationwide.
Aregbesola also reiterated the need for a comprehensive review of the nation’s criminal justice system in a bid to addressing the alarming figure of inmates who are awaiting trial and languishing in jail.
The Minister said: “One big challenge we have at Corrections is congestion, especially at the urban centres where the population density is high and human relations are more complex, leading to higher crime rate and the need to keep some people behind bars. But we are addressing this challenge with the construction of six mega custodial centres in the six geopolitical zones of the country. The ones in Kano and Abuja are ready and with regular funding, the remaining will be completed.
“It is also hoped that State Governments will take advantage of the constitution amendment recently signed by President Muhammadu Buhari which makes corrections a concurrent affair. It is on record that more than 90 per cent of inmates in our facilities are state offenders. It is important therefore that State Governments begin to invest in corrections.
For the Minister, “It is even more important to reform the criminal justice system. I have been making the case and I will continue to do so, that 70 per cent of inmates are awaiting trial and constitute the majority in our facilities. The sad thing about this is we cannot statutorily begin their process of reformation because they are assumed to be innocent, except for those who voluntarily wish to participate in any of our programmes.
“Many of them have spent time in detention longer than the maximum sentence their alleged offence carries. This predispose them to violent conduct and they are the biggest source of the challenge of discipline and control we have at the custodial centres. State governments should reform their justice administration system by putting a cap on the trial period and ensure swift administration of justice. This will eliminate the long period of trial and the perpetual detention of suspects and the injustice this constitutes”
The Minister also stated that neither the Minister nor the NCoS can on their own release inmates. “Let me use this opportunity to clarify a misconception in the public. NCoS or the Minister have no power of detention or release of inmates. They are brought to our facilities through a valid court warrant and it is by the same process that they are released. Convicts can also be released by the president or a state governor exercising the prerogative of mercy. Our own responsibility therefore is to keep them in safe custody and keep society safe from them – while we rehabilitate them and reintegrate them back into society when they complete their terms.”