Some lawyers in Lagos yesterday called for more community service judgments to decongest the prisons and prevent facilities from being overstretched. They told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in separate interviews that such sentences would also ensure speedy dispensation of justice.
Mr. Adindu Ibuzo, a legal practitioner, urged state governments to emulate Lagos State that has embraced delivering of community service judgments. Community service sentence is a non-custodial punishment for offenders, which aims at preventing overpopulation of the prisons. Ibuzo said this type of sentence would also reduce the burden of prison authorities in handling more inmates and prevent the usual stigma of offenders being called ex-convicts.
The lawyer explained that application of jail term on petty crime offenders was capable of disrupting such offenders’ social and economic lives. “Community service, if well implemented, is a good reformatory and punitive measure for petty offences.
“Instead of imprisoning an offender and spending tax payers’ money to feed him, let him work for the betterment of the community. “It is enough shame and suffering for offenders to be seen by people who know them while cleaning the streets or public toilets as punishment for their offences,” he said.
Another legal practitioner, Mr. Ihayin Owa, said that community service was a means to de-congesting the prison system without compromising justice administration. “Community service is a way of helping reform the mind of a petty offender from the crime he has committed. “As the law says, justice is not a one way traffic. It goes in three ways: justice for the state; the complainant and the offender. “The welfare of the offender should also be put into consideration, when applying the judgment.” Owa, therefore, urged state governments to explore the option of community service as a means of reducing overcrowding in prisons.
“Some people go into crime due to poverty and hunger; such offenders should not be sent to prison. “A first time offender, who stole a chicken and was sent to prison stands the chance of meeting hardened criminals and coming back to commit higher level of crime,” he said.
Mrs Tola Akintunde, a Lagos based lawyer, simply observed that “imprisoning petty criminals is not an efficient way of tackling crime”.