Ben Ezechime, Enugu
Headfort Foundation has commended the recent intervention by the Federal Government and the Ministry of Interior to release 4,068 inmates from Nigerian prisons.
The foundation made the commendation in a press release posted on its X (formerly Twitter handle).
The foundation, however, said the action of the government was not enough to decongest the prisons.
“Unfortunately, it falls short of
effectively addressing the issue of prison congestion.”
According the statement, contrary to popular belief, the prisons were not primarily congested with convicts but with pretrial inmates.
It said: “With a capacity of no fewer than 50,000, Nigerian prisons are currently accommodating approximately 81,000 inmates, of which 75 percent are awaiting trial from prison to freedom.
“While the government’s effort to pay fines for inmates who have served various terms of imprisonment with the option of fine or compensation is a step in the right direction, it is crucial to recognise that this alone will not solve the problem.”
The foundation further said that if necessary reforms were not implemented, the Police will dump twice the number of Nigerians in prison within three months.
To effectively decongest the prisons, Infotech recommended several key measures.
“First and foremost, Police Reform is essential.
“The police force must be equipped with the necessary training, resources, and accountability mechanisms to prevent the unnecessary arrest and detention of individuals.
“By addressing the root causes of the high number of pretrial inmates, we can prevent overcrowding in prison.
“Additionally, the government should consider employing more judges to expedite the judicial process,” Bello stated.
It said that the backlog of cases contribute significantly to the prolonged detention of individuals awaiting trial.
It added that by increasing the number of judges, Nigeria can ensure that cases were heard and determined in a timely manner, reducing the number of pretrial inmates.
“Furthermore, it is crucial to amend or repeal laws that criminalise petty crimes,” the statement said.
“Many individuals are unnecessarily detained for minor offenses, adding to the burden on the prison system.
“By reassessing these laws and implementing alternative approaches, such as community service or rehabilitation programmes, we can reduce the number of individuals entering the prison system.”
Headfort further called for training of Judges.
“In addition to these reforms, it is imperative to train judges to grant bail with lenient conditions.
“The current practice of setting stringent bail conditions often results in individuals being unable to afford their release, leading to prolonged detention.
“By adopting a more flexible approach to bail, we can ensure that individuals who do not pose a significant flight risk or danger to society are not needlessly incarcerated.
“Lastly, efforts must be made to eradicate delays in determining criminal cases. Lengthy court proceedings contribute to the prolonged detention of individuals, exacerbating prison congestion.
“By implementing measures to expedite the judicial process, we can ensure that justice is served swiftly,” the Foundation said.