As part of strategic measures to reform the country’s Prisons Service, President Muhammadu Buhari recently signed into law a bill that changes the name of the Nigeria Prisons Service (NPS) to Nigerian Correctional Service (NCS). This was announced by his aide on National Assembly (Senate), Senator Ita Enang, who said the new Act repeals the NPS Act.
Correctional Service, according to the Act, consists of two main faculties – Custodial Service and Non-Custodial Service. Custodial Service would take custody and control of persons legally interned in safe, secure and humane conditions. It also has a mandate to convey remand persons to and from courts in motorized formations; identify the existence and causes of anti-social behaviours among inmates; conduct risk and needs assessment with a view to developing appropriate correctional treatment methods for reformation, rehabilitation and reintegration. It equally has the responsibility to implement reformation and rehabilitation programmes that would enhance the reintegration of inmates into the society.
The Custodial Service is equally in charge of initiating behaviour modification in inmates through the provision of medical, psychological, spiritual and counselling services for offenders, including violent extremists. It is also mandated to empower inmates through the deployment of educational and vocational skills training programmes. It is further expected to facilitate incentives and income generation through Custodial Centres, farms, industries, borstal (meant to reform young people) and related institutions. This is in addition to facilitating the speedy disposal of cases of persons awaiting trial.
The new Act provides in Section 12 (2) (c) that where an inmate sentenced to death has exhausted all legal procedures for appeal and a period of 10 years has elapsed without execution of the sentence, the Chief Judge may commute the sentence of death to life imprisonment. Section 12 (8) empowers the state Comptroller of the Service to reject additional intakes of inmates where it is apparent that the correctional centre to which they were sent is already filled to capacity.
The Non-Custodial faculty of the Correctional Service would be responsible for the administration of non-custodial measures that include community service, probation, parole, restorative justice measures and such other measures as a court of competent jurisdiction may order. Restorative justice measures approved in the Act include victim-offender mediation, family group conferencing, community mediation and other conciliatory measures as may be deemed necessary at pre-trial, trial during imprisonment or post-imprisonment stages.
The attempt by the federal government to reform prison services with the new Act is commendable. Although prison homes are conventionally supposed to serve as behavioural reform and rehabilitation centres, many inmates come out after serving their prison terms with traits that do not show they had their characters reformed. Rather, many come out with no remorse for their wrong actions, instead as hardened criminals.
Criminologists affirm the existence of a correlation between living conditions in prison homes and a convict’s character. Poor environmental hygiene, disease, congestions and unpalatable feeding system constitute the norm in most prison yards in Nigeria. Prisoners depend on donations from mosques, churches, NGOs and philanthropic personalities to provide for their individual nutrition and basic health needs. Nigerian prisons has a greater number of awaiting trials persons than convicts. All these cannot absolutely be isolated from the cankerworm of corruption that is deeply rooted in nearly all MDAs. Well-off inmates spend their personal resources to eat quality food and access good healthcare. This is because funds meant for these services are either diverted, or at worst, stolen.
The most important factor in any prison reform package is not in name-change. Let the prisons be run in line with global best practices. While we call on all the hierarchies of Correctional authorities to ensure maximum implementation of Custodial Services as provided in the new Act, the judiciary should endeavour to quicken the administration of criminal justice.