PRESS RELEASE: PRISON DECONGESTION – A PRECAUTIONARY STEP TO CURTAILING COVID-19
Date Line: Abuja
Date: Wednesday, 1st April, 2020
DECONGESTION OF PRISONS: A CASE FOR LOW LEVEL OFFENDERS IN NIGERIAN PRISONS FOR DRUG RELATED OFFENCES.
As countries all over the world battle the coronavirus pandemic and Nigeria records its 139th confirmed case, we commend the efforts of the Presidency for setting up a Committee for the Decongestion of the Correctional Centres, a committee which has made laudable suggestions on ways to decongest our custodial centres at this trying time.
Correctional facilities are the easiest place for COVID-19 to surge which would undeniably lead to fatal outcomes with humans confined to overcrowded cells and correctional staff who have to commute to their various communities and back to these facilities. These facilities are the only place where basic precautions against the virus such as social distancing, self-isolation where necessary or constant washing of hands cannot be practiced. The Ikoyi custodial centre for instance was built to house 800 inmates but it is currently home to over 3700 men. This is nearly the case for all custodial centres in Nigeria and the government will acknowledge that, pre-trial detention is significantly contributing to prison overcrowding in the country, with some institutions reporting that they are 250 per cent over capacity.
According to a study by YouthRISE Nigeria in 2017 across 7 prisons in 4 states, of those detained for minor offences such as possession or use of small quantity of drugs, pre-trial detention accounts for 59% of inmates. It is for this reason we urge the government to consider the population of people in prisons for drug related offences who are mostly first time/ low level offenders, in its implementation of prison decongestion.
The government by virtue of S. 33 (1) of the 1999 Constitution has a duty to protect the life of every Nigerian including those whose liberty have been deprived by law (with an exemption of persons sentenced to death). With the knowledge that many inmates have unchecked health conditions due to the deplorable conditions of living, high risk drug use practise and the near absence of health care behind bars we must reiterate that our correctional facilities are a ticking bomb at this time.
As the government continues to make efforts in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic, we seek the prioritization of the prison decongestion efforts now, in order to alleviate the pressure on the system. In view of this, we propose:
- Amnesty to non-violent inmates awaiting trial, with specific reference to people in correctional centres for drug use and possession.
- Implementation of the provisions of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) as it relates to parole of persons serving prison term for minor drug related offense.
Finally, YouthRISE Nigeria and Hope Behind Bars Africa, re-iterate that people in correctional centres must not be left behind in our national response to ensure safety and mitigate the spread of COVID-19.