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March 23, 2017

House of Representatives move to decongest prisons

A reprieve may be in the offing for people who are awaiting trial in prisons across the country following the Wednesday consideration for the bill on Criminal Justice Act Amendment at the House of Representatives.

This is as Lawmakers expressed support for the bill that strengthens the Criminal Justice system as it went through consideration at the committee in the Whole.

The bill which amends the Criminal Justice (Release from custody) (Special Provisions) Act, Cap. C40, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, with the view to decongest and reduce the number of pre-trial inmates in Nigerian prisons and for other related matters was co-sponsored by Nicholas Ossai and Ochiglegor Idagor.

It seeks to “order the release of a person detained in custody pending trial where the prosecution fails to commence after the person had spent one-third of the maximum sentence prescribed for the offence.”

Figures released by the United Nation’s Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in August 2016, states that  out of the 63,000 inmates spread across 240 prisons in the country, 17,897 are convicted while 45,263 are awaiting trial.

Idagor while arguing for a positive consideration of the bill said it’s “embarrassing and worrisome State of Nigerian prisons, where over 70% of inmates are awaiting trial, has made it imperative for us to apply extra Legislative Budget measures to decongest our prisons and further strengthen the criminal justice system.”

He further states: “Our society is one in which innocence until proven guilty has been thrown into the wind, as Nigerians are made to spend months and years in incarceration even without being proven guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction.

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“We can no longer continue living in the dark age where  people’s rights are constantly abused while the government stands aside and watch. We all know that in the 240 prisons spread across Nigeria, the innocent who were wrongly accused, wrongly detained and are awaiting trial constitute 70% of the Nigerian prison population.

“It has also been revelead that 95% of riots, escapes and jail breaks are perpetuated by this category of inmates.”

The lawmaker stated that the bill seeks to cure the age long problem of awaiting trial persons languishing in various prisons as well as saddle an awaiting trial perons with powers to apply to a Judge within the judicial district for unconditional release from custody.

This he said is especially in a situation where the person has been in custody for a period longer than the maximum period of imprisonment which he could have served had he been convicted of the offence in respect of which he was detained in the execution of a court or Tribunal duly constituted by law.



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