By Sandra Umeh
Dr Uju Agomoh, Executive Director, Prisoners’ Rehabilitation and Welfare Action (PRAWA), on Saturday said the Nigerian Correctional Service Bill would strengthen the prison system, if signed into law and well enforced.
The Nigerian Correctional Service Bill which was passed on Dec. 20, 2018, by the National Assembly, is yet to be signed into law as President Muhammadu Buhari wants some sections to be amended.
Agomoh told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) that the reforms would enhance the operations of the Nigeria Prison Service.
She urged the National Assembly to amend the necessary areas.
Agomoh said that there was the need for adequate facilities and support for the prison service to fully comply with the UN’s Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, including provision of adequate rehabilitation programmes for inmates.
“The establishment of non-custodial services is very important; this will include supervision of inmates granted parole, as well as those given non-custodial sentences such as probation orders or community service order.
”This will also help to provide effective implementation of non-custodial sanctions,” she said.
According to her, there is the need to ensure reduction in pre-trial detention, including the rate of reception and duration in custody.
“What is needed is effective coordination and efficiency of all criminal justice agencies and the power of the prison service to activate an early warning signal when inmates population is exceeding its official capacity.
“The prison service should also have the power to refuse admission when it is beyond the limit it can accommodate,” she said.
Agomoh also urged the establishment of a young offenders institution in all states of the federation to end detention of juveniles in adult prisons.
“At this moment, we have borstals in only Kaduna, Ilorin and Abeokuta; more states need to establish remand homes and approved schools for juveniles and young offenders.
“We also need to have separate prison facilities for female prisoners in all the states of the federation,” she said.
She also called for establishment of a prison mental health review board in all states of the federation to help to assess, treat, and where necessary, facilitate diversion of mentally ill prisoners to therapeutic settings, including psychiatric hospitals, for treatment.
“There is need to stop the practice of detaining in prison, mentally ill persons who have not committed any criminal offence, as is the case with those classified as ‘civil lunatics’.
“The capacity of the prison service should also be strengthened with respect to providing training for prison officers, especially nurses and doctors on mental health, and enhancing the skills of prison psychologists and social workers,” she said.
She also suggested installation of close circuit cameras, body scanners and fingerprint capturing equipment.
She also urged provision of adequate facilities and programmes as well as strengthening of internal and external oversight mechanisms for prisons.
Agomoh also called for steps be taken to encourage effective re-integration of ex-prisoners into communities, reduce public stigmatisation of offenders and remove any clause excluding ex-offenders from employment.
“We encourage the National Assembly and the president to do the needful so that the bill will become a law as soon as possible before the end of the eighth Assembly,” she said.