SENATE & HOUSE COMMITTEES ON INTERIOR HOLD JOINT PUBLIC HEARING
The Senate and House of Representatives Committees on Interior have held a Joint Public Hearing at the Senate wing of the National Assembly on the Criminal Justice System.
The Bill in focus includes:
- i.Act CAP.29, 2004 (Repeal And Re-enactment), 2011
- ii.Establishment of National Assembly Convict & Criminal Records Registry.
- iii.Community service.
In all, stakeholders are seeking common ground for global best practice in prison management with articulated and legal framework stipulating the health and social rights of inmates, criminal records Registry for Convicts, and a streamlined and seamless relationship between the Courts, the Executive (police EFCC etc) and prosecution and the receiving prison authorities.
Senator Adetumbi Olubumi is of the view that:
In this Bill, the issue has been raised about the need to shift from the old to the new order which is the penal system into the correctional system and I think one of the underlying element is the codification of the philosophies that underpins that shift which is currently not in this Bill and that is largely looking at international Charters and Best Practices that is best acceptable to inmate who are in custody so that we can have a section of this Bill that talks about the right of the inmates because they are part of society and I think in this regard we shall be expecting a substantial input from the National Human Right Commission so that you can help us create a chapter that talks about really when somebody is in custody, what are his rights codified in law?
The second thing is also a corollary to the first one which is what are the medical rights of inmates and why is it possible for an inmate whether sentenced or awaiting trial to die in custody without consequence and without compensation? Currently the life expectancy in Nigeria on account of poverty is about 45 years. Why should the average life expectancy of a Nigerian be shortened because of incarceration? I think we need to know what are the enforceable and privileges of inmates. Recently, it was reported of the death of inmates who are held only a year ago; by any chance, if they had not committed any of those infractions, they probably would have been living souls today so they are into pre-mature death on account of incarceration so we need to know what is possible in this area.
For those of us who have had international and comparative experiences, what should be the difference between legislation, a law and the operational guidelines for prison service? Should our law be voluminous and bulky or should we separate what is the statute from what is the procedural guideline which I see a lot of amalgam between what seems to be administrative procedures and provision of how to implement certain things and exactly what the laws are saying?
Do we really need to put all of these together into one document or should they be separated? We need our Commentators, Human Rights Commission, the International Representation and the Immigration Service, to give us what is happening in other jurisdictions so that we don’t reinvent the wheel.
There is no provision in this law about the responsibility for prison Data Generation and the Storage, Retrieval and sharing of prison Information. The other Bill here that talks about criminal records, there has to be a corresponding window in the prisons law that enables it to release and to share as an obligation not as something that has to be extracted by judicial pronouncements or when the prison Authorities are not empowered by this law to release and to share; that provision to release is required given the kind of criminal justice Bill reform that is coming. I think we have to proactively input these things into our law because I imagine that when the criminal justice Bill comes, since the prison is a taker or recipient of the outcome of the criminal justice system, we don’t have to come back here because there are certain laws and situations that we can anticipate and therefore put into this Bill at this point and I expect the Comptroller General to be able to answer to this.
The issue of private prisons: What is the provision in the law? We have an experience from South Africa. Nigeria has made provision or proposal for private prisons which South Africa experience accepts but on the ground it must provide prison infrastructure; that the running of prison must remain within the jurisdiction of the Nigerian prisons operational service. What is the provision in this law that creates that window so that it becomes possible and foreseeable in the future?
The rejection of prisoners from the court by the prison service; under what condition is the prison authorities be able to state their inability to accept this number of inmates and again this boils down to the philosophy; is the philosophy of the Correctional prison system humane and Human rights based or is it just a lock-up shop where you just throw somebody in and whether it is fit for human condition or not becomes irrelevant, I think we need to talk more on this because there is already a controversy on it, the Justices, the Prisons, the Human Right Community and the civil society do not seem to have an agreement to that and we need a concrete position on this especially when there are positions on this from other jurisdiction.
Hon. Bature Umar
Hon. Bature Umar says he has a question in comparison with the old and new Bill regarding security; have we met the required standard of security of inmates and prisons? I think we should look at this and formulate a law that will standardize and ensure the security of inmates and the prisons.
Reformation: What is going to be the new template for reformation?
Rehabilitation: At what level have we rehabilitated an inmate and what are the challenges and what is the new law that can handle this and Re-integration; how do we re-integrate a prisoner? There are some people who believe they should go back to the prison to get better food because they cannot afford two hundred naira (N200) for a meal outside the prison so we have to look at the law.
Revenue Generation: Some of us have proposed that states be made to be part of prisons maintenance and upkeep. Part of our reasons stem from the fact that the states are Primary Agents or Agencies of Government who bring this inmates to prisons; most of this crimes are committed in the states so those states should take part and this will help in reducing the number of people Awaiting Trial because if states are made to pay, there is every likelihood that the states will ensure the judiciary move faster in disposal of the cases. It is in this line of thought that we shall come with a framework in addressing the issues from the Human Right angle, Civil Society and Judiciary. I believe our focus is to reform the prisons.
ON ACT CAP. 29, 2004 (REPEAL AND RE-ENACTMENT), 2011, Professor Beem Angwe, Executive Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission says “There is no gainsaying that the laws and regulations guiding the prisons administration in Nigeria are largely colonial vestiges which require serious amendment to bring them in line with current international human rights standards.
Section 6 (e) of the National Human Rights Commissions Act, 2010 as amended which specifically mandates the Commission to visit prisons, police cells and other places of detention in order to ascertain the conditions thereof and make recommendations to the appropriate authorities.
In furtherance of the foregoing obligation the commission conducted nationwide prison audits in 1999, 2004, 2007, 2009 and most recently 2011/2012. Our intervention in penal reform is aimed at ensuring that prison institutions are designed and managed in a manner that ensure that the conditions of life therein are compatible with human dignity and acceptable standards. These exercises have led to a measure of landmark reforms to Nigeria prison system.
The outcomes of all these exercises revealed various Human Rights challenges to both inmates and the operators of the system alike.
The welfare and condition of living of prison inmates as well as officers continues to be appalling. The prison environment continues to pose serious threats to the physical and mental well-being of inmates and prison officers alike. Conditions such as overcrowding, lack of medical/health facilities, poor toilet facilities and beddings, and denial of access to justice continues to persist in clear contrast to the requirement of the UN standards for the treatment of persons in custody.
While this state of affairs are largely attributable to actions and/or inactions of all players in the administration of justice sector key amongst whom are the Police, the Judiciary, the bar and the prison authority itself, the reality remains that the prison as an institution have very little say as far as admission of inmates into the facilities is concerned. Even in the face of apparent breach of statutory requirement of local and international instruments, the prisons lacks legislative discretion to invoke compliance with acceptable standards.
Some examples of anti-Human Rights practices attributable to the absence of legislative discretion or incapacity by the prison authorities to have a say in admitting inmates into their facilities includes:
To make any head way, this trend must be aborted. It is recommended
This will go a long way in ameliorating the current problems caused by
lack of requisite data. It will provide necessary data for planning in many areas.
Community Service is an order of the court whereby the offender is offered the opportunity of compensating society for the wrong he/she has done by performing work for the benefit of the community. This is not only in line with the Human Rights/Social Contract theory whereby all holders of public offices do so on behalf of the entire society, but also in agreement with democratic ideals where power indeed belongs to the people.
The legitimate purpose of prison is to reform and rehabilitate those who have committed an offence, and who are considered a danger to society, to assist them to lead a law-abiding and self-supporting life upon release. In reality, however, the majority of offenders in many countries are non-violent, petty offenders serving short prison terms. Prison overcrowding has become one of the most challenging problems faced by criminal justice systems worldwide.
For non-violent and first-time offenders, the rehabilitative effects of short prison terms are minimal. Yet the costs of imprisonment- to the state, to prisoners themselves and their families- are great.
Alternatives to imprisonment cover a range of sanctions that aim to restore the relationship between the offender, the victim and the wider community by taking into consideration the rehabilitative needs of the offender, the protection of society and the interests of the victim. Specific alternative measures include mediation, diversion, community service and administrative and monetary sanctions.
The UN Standard Minimum Rules for Non-custodial Measures provide a set of basic principles to promote the use of non-custodial measures as well as minimum safeguards for persons subject to alternatives to imprisonment. States are required to prescribe the introduction, definition and application of non-custodial measures in the law and ensure that such measures are available to all persons at all stages of criminal justice process.
The imposition of alternative measures should be based on an assessment of the nature and gravity of the offence and the personality, background of the offender, the purposes of sentencing and the rights of victims and be subject to the offender’s consent.
In conclusion, we commend the distinguished chair and members of this honourable committee for the opportunity afforded the commission and other members of the public to share thoughts in this very important topic. It is our hope that the recommendations proffered herein will assist the work of the committee”.
Zakari Ibrahim (Comptroller-General Nigeria Prison Service) says:
From the result we are seeing, we know that the criminal Justice System in Nigeria is slow (not as effective as we expected) because if it were effective, we would not be having the over 70% of inmates awaiting trial. This means that all the arms of the Criminal Justice System in Nigeria have gaps that needs filling and this new Act, we believe would address these problems in line with global best practices (modern correctional practices), so we would be able to deal with some of these issues.
We need to also have provision for better funding of the prison service and also the areas of Industrialization and Agriculture which are cardinal. We observed that the revenues generated from production by law, is paid into the Federation account and then we don’t have any capital to re-invest into production and also the inmates that participated in production are left with nothing. So we believe that the Bill would make provision for some percentage of these incomes to be re-invested into the system and also to bank for the inmates so that after serving their time they would have something to fall back on.
Things have not been as expected. These Bill seeks to address the problems that are affecting the mandate of the Nigerian Prison/Criminal Justice System.