Many of the prisons are overdue for renovation

While 70 per cent of the inmates across the country are awaiting trial, available reports also indicate that many of the prisons are old and dilapidated, since they were built as far back as the early part of the 19th century. Therefore, any prison reform that does not take account of that will be a waste of time. For instance, Warri Prison was built in 1805; Azare in 1816, Degema in 1855 while the newest, Zing was built in 2011. Bauchi, Ningi and Misua prisons were all built in 1820, 1827 and 1831 in that order. The majority of these prisons were built with mud bricks in a small compound, according to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) 2012 prisons report.

However, beyond the state of the prison is the justice administration in Nigeria. One major recommendation from all previous reports is that the Police should review the method and manner in which charges are brought to court. Investigations of crimes are expected to be within a stipulated reasonable period of time before charges are proffered in courts of competent jurisdictions to avoid unnecessary delay in the trial of offenders. There have also been recommendations that the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and other civil societies groups should be challenged to encourage their members to offer pro bono services to awaiting trial inmates while the government should provide the enabling environment for the provision of such services.

For instance, and as it has been recommended in the past, remuneration of prison staff should be improved and be made comparable to that of other uniformed services to attract and retain the best calibre of personnel. Prison officials are also expected to be constantly trained and retrained on the relevant standards with respect to treatment of prison inmates in accordance with human rights norms and practices. Modern working tools and logistics are to be provided them so they can discharge their duties efficiently and effectively. Adequate and decent barracks should also be provided for prison staff consistent with the dignity of their persons while their salaries and allowances should be paid regularly.

The foregoing recommendations are in the reports already available to the federal government. Meanwhile, prison inmates are also expected to be provided adequate and proper uniforms to avoid a situation where they have to provide their own clothes as it currently happens while bedding facilities should be adequately provided in the prisons. Provision should be made for recreational and vocational facilities both for awaiting trial inmates and those that are already convicted. To this effect, the necessary institutional arrangements should be made by government to accommodate this change. This is to avoid the situation whereby ATPs leave the prisons in a worse state than they were when they entered.

It is recommended that part of proceeds realised from the sale of materials produced by prison inmates should be kept for after-care services on release. This is to avoid a situation where inmates are released with nothing and to nothing, leaving them nothing but a one-way ticket back to prison. In this regard, prison allowances should be reintroduced and given to inmates on release. Finally, it has been suggested severally that prison inmates should be separated on the basis of age, health condition and nature of offence in all the prisons while remand homes should be designated for awaiting trial persons, instead of them being kept in the regular prison with convicts.

We believe that if some of these well-documented steps are taken by the federal government, they would go a long way in redressing not only the challenge of congestion but also that of other associated problems that have combined to make Nigerian prisons hell for most inmates who usually come out either hardened or physically and psychologically damaged.