By; JACOB ONJEWU DICKSON
Nigeria Correctional Service (NCS) is set to address its facilities congestion and reduce 70% of Nigerian inmates awaiting trial by implementing the non-custodial measures, the Comptroller General has said.
Controller General Ja’afaru Ahmed, who lamented the high rate of inmates awaiting trial, noted that the implementation of the alternative options to imprisonment such as restoration service and community service, will ensure that petty offenders are sentenced to community service when convicted, while family and community issues are resolved through mediation.
Speaking on Monday while addressing the Training of Trainers on Implementation of Non-Custodial Measures at the Correctional Training Institute, Kaduna, the CG, who was represented by the Deputy Comptroller General Covering Duty (Training and Staff Development), DCG Sylvester Nwakuche, said that non-custodial measures will drastically reduce prison congestion and awaiting trial inmates, which currently stands at 70%.
According to the CG, “the new Nigeria Correctional Service Act 2019, which has been enacted to repeal the old Act Cap P29, 2004, .brought out fundamental changes. We now have custodial punishment and non-custodial which has to do with alternative to imprisonment. Infractions, minor offences, petty thieves are now resolved through restorative and community services”.
The resource person, who is also Deputy Director, Prisoners Rehabilitation and Welfare Action (PRAWA), Mrs Ogechi Ogwu, said that the challenges facing the criminal justice system is due to improper handling of cases from arrest, detention, investigation and prosecution in court. Persons that may not be found in prison are awaiting trial, some stay longer than the length of time they would have spent if convicted.
“Nigeria government looked at it and discovered that petty and minor offences should be handled differently. Some of them have been abolished from our laws but no effort is made to remove them from the penal code. Somebody caught selling groundnut on the street, a prostitute, vagabonds, they should not be taken to prison.
“This part of the new Act has come to address the awaiting trial issue. In the FCT during the Covid-19 lockdown, mobile courts were established to deal with people who infringed on the law, 23,000 persons were convicted and sentenced to non-custodial services. If they have been sent to correctional facilities, they would have increased the congestion.”
Also speaking, the Commandant Correctional Service Training School, Kaduna, Habiba Ahmad, lamented that the congestion of Correctional service centers across the country arose from awaiting trial inmates. “Implementation of the non-custodial measures will decongest our correctional facilities as the congestion is normally from awaiting trial inmates.”