…Oyo CJ suggests ways to decongest facilities
About 95 percent of the inmates in Nigerian prisons are those awaiting trials and have committed simple offences which ordinarily ought to have been non-custodial.
These assertions were made by the Alhaji Yusuf Kasali, the Comptroller of Prisons, Oyo State last week while on a courtesy visit to the Chief Judge of Oyo State, Justice Mukhtar Abimbola in his office at the State High Court Complex, Ring Road, Ibadan.
The Oyo State Chief Judge, Muktar Abimbola also suggested ways out of the incessant prison congestion all over the country.According to Kasali, there are about 1,401 inmates in the three Oyo State prisons, out of which 1,285 are awaiting trials.
The former FCT prison boss stated that some of these inmates are first offenders, who ordinarily ought to have been given other non-custodial options to atone for their simple offences.
He therefore solicited for cooperation with the state Chief Judge, who he said is empowered by the state laws, to set free certain offenders who are been unjustly locked up in correctional facilities.
Kasali explained that four states have domesticated the Administration of Justice Act, which provides for alternative penalties for simple offenders in order to decongest the prisons.
These non-custodial alternative options include; probations, suspended sentences, community services, curfew and some others.Kasali said: “We have about 1,100 inmates at Agodi Prisons, Ibadan and out of these, 1,000 of them are awaiting trials. In Oyo Prison, we have
361, with about 285 awaiting trial. Ogbomoso Prison is a half-way home, which we treat as a rehabilitative facility. We move inmates who are almost through with their sentences to the facility and train them in Animal Husbandry and
“The training, we believe, will hold them in good stead and integrate them into the society after their prison terms. We need to have non-custodial options for these people in order to make good citizens out of them.
All over the world nowadays, the management of inmates have gone beyond punitive but correctional reforms and we should follow suit here in Nigeria,”
On his part, Justice Abimbola, told his guest that section 4 of the state laws empowers him to visit prisons and release inmates,who have been on awaiting trials for a period far exceeding the sentence period for their offences.
He said he can also order the release of inmates if it can be manifestly proved that he/she is being unlawfully detained or if their arrest and prosecution are being unnecessarily prolonged.Justice Abimbola explained that he has visited the prisons in the state regularly in the past and exercised his powers to release certain deserving inmates.
However, he said that he stopped the practice when it was obvious that the Police in the state were not comfortable with his interventions.“I stopped visiting the prisons to perform these statutory functions when the Police challenged me on it.I told them that we were not doing these (release) on our whims and caprices. In the Magistrate Courts, in Iyaganku alone, we have about 7,511 cases pending, while we have 801 cases in the Chief Magistrate Courts,” he disclosed.
On what his office plans to do about the situation, Justice Abimbola assured the prison boss of the cooperation of his office and promised to set up a special court to help decongest the prisons.His words: “We shall set up a special court in the new legal year to fast track civil matters, while criminal cases would also be frontally dealt with when we resume in the legal year. Custodial orders, however, awaits criminals who cannot comport themselves in the civil society.
“We shall put in certain operations that will have the effect of decongesting our prisons, especially those simple offences. We may even set up special courts for these purposes.” Justice Abimbola also assured his guests on the domestication of the Administration of Justice Act (ACJA) in the state, in order to fast track the efforts by the various agencies to decongest the prisons in the state. He said: “The Speaker of the State House of Assembly has assured us that the ACJA will soon be domesticated in the state as the bill will soon be passed by the House of Assembly, as soon as we passed same to the House.
“Right now, we have Community Service Officers in place and we are only waiting for the bill establishing them to be passed by the State House of Assembly for them to start operations. Their activities would certainly help to decongest our prisons soon.”