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Prison congestion: What we should learn from South Africa

22 October 2015, 14:29 Hussain Obaro

Over the recent years, the urgent need to decongest the Nigeria prisons due to overcrowd and over stretch of the facilities has remain a source of grave concern and worry to all stakeholders and a topic for national discuss. Governments and corporate individuals have at one  time or the other seek and proffer solutions and permanent ways through which the Nigerian prison can be effectively decongested and pave a way for a smooth  administration of criminal justice system in Nigeria. Some persons have advised that the Nigerian prison service which is currently under the federal ministry of interior be transferred to the ministry of justice as a way of ensuring proper supervision of trial and conviction. Others have called for the decentralization of the current prison system into federal, states and local prisons to cater for federal, states and local offenses respectively like it is currently being practiced in countries like the United States of America, as against the maximum and minimum security system that is presently the case in this country.

Going by the urgency and the need for Nigeria to brace up to the challenge of modern prison system, there is need for us as a country to borrow a leave or learn from the prison model of South Africa. The country has effectively integrated and modified the parole system as it is being practiced in France, United Kingdom, United States of America and even India, in periodically decongesting their prisons. Parole is a provisional release of a prisoner on the completion of the minimum sentence period or jail term. Under this system, a parole board which is an independent body visits the prisons and monitor prison inmates from time to time and they are the ones who decide whether an offender should be released from prison on parole after serving at least a minimum portion of their sentence as pronounced by the sentencing judge.

Also Read: South African prison evacuated after deadly rat infestation

The parole board makes risk assessment about prisoners to be able to decide who may safely be released into the larger society on parole. The board takes into due cognizance the personal characteristics of inmates such as age, mental stability, marital status and previous criminal record, the nature or severity of the offense committed, the length of sentence served and the inmates degree of remorse for the offense committed, inmates ability to establish a permanent residence and obtain gainful employment upon release, among other parameters. The embarrassing and most worrisome state of the Nigeria prison in which over 60% of  inmates are awaiting  trial has made it imperative for the government to seek extra measures aimed at decongesting our prison and further strengthening the country’s criminal justice system.

Ours is a society in which innocence until proven guilty has been thrown into the wind, as Nigerians are made to spend months and years in incarceration even without being pronounced guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction. We can no longer continue to leave in the dark ages, by locking people up for years without properly according them their right to fair hearing or being tried. The government should put a stop to this human right abuse and integrate the parole system into the Nigerian criminal justice system as our fellow African country, South Africa had already done. This is the only way sanity can be restored back into the Nigerian criminal justice system.           

- MyNews24

Disclaimer: All articles and letters published on MyNews24 have been independently written by members of News24's community. The views of users published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. News24 editors also reserve the right to edit or delete any and all comments received.

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