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PRAI at Pro Bono Week 2021

Our Executive Director/Founder – Mr. Ahmed Adetola-Kazeem had the honour of speaking at the Panel Session closing the Pro Bono week in Lagos last Friday. He discussed on the need for the implementation of Section 12(4)- (8) of the Nigeria Correctional Service Act 2019 as well as the need to embrace non-custodial measures provided in the Act to solve the endemic overcrowding bedeviling our Correctional Facilities.

He also highlighted some reasons why Defence lawyers are not embracing Plea Bargain for their clients and how to resolve it. On the Panel was the A.G of Lagos, A.G of Ogun, and the Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Unilag, and Professor of Criminal Law, Prof. Ayo Atsenuwa.

The session was moderated by Sola Soyele of Channels TV. He also charged key members of the audience which included the Deputy Chief of Staff to the President and Former A.G of Lagos, Mr. Ade Ipaye to ensure they see to the full implementation of key provisions of the NSCA.

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PRAI DONATE RELIEF SUPPLIES TO BORSTAL INSTITUTION KADUNA

PRAI was at Borstal Institution Kaduna on Saturday 2nd May 2020 to donate some food items and toiletries.  The Principal of the Institution expressed his gratitude orally and through a letter of appreciation on behalf of the Nigeria Correctional Service and the 316 boys in the Centre.

The relief effort was spearheaded by the Kaduna State PRAI coordinator, Mr. Abdul Malik Mohammed for the superb coordination of the exercise.

 

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PRAI SPEARHEAD RELIEF EFFORTS FOR JUVENILE CORRECTIONAL CENTRES AMIDST COVID19 PANDEMIC

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text css_animation=”fadeIn”]PRAI through its Juvenile Justice Support Programme is leading a nationwide effort at providing succour to Juvenile Correctional Centres in Lagos, Ogun, Kwara and Kaduna States in the wake of the COVID-19 Pandemic outbreak.

The lockdown and restriction of access to Correctional Facilities is bringing untold hardship to children in the centres. Parents who bring provisions to the centres to supplement staple food provided by Government and NGOs that provide toiletries have stopped coming.
In view of the absence of support from any quarters, PRAI has been raising funds and providing relief materials like food stuffs, beverages and toiletries to the centres.
We have provided support for the following centres:
1. Special Correctional Centre for Boys,  Oregun, Lagos State.
2  Special Correctional Centre for Girls, Idi-Araba, Lagos State.
3. Borstal Institution, Abeokuta, Ogun State.
4. Borstal Institution, Ilorin  Kwara State.
In the next few days we shall be supporting:
1. Borstal Institution, Kaduna, Kaduna State
2. Correctional Centre for Girls, Idi-Araba, Lagos State.
3. Correctional Centre for Boys, Yaba, Lagos.
We hope to sustain the intervention till the end of the pandemic subject to the availability of funds.

 

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PRAI COMMENCES CHARACTER LEADERSHIP, ENTREPRENEURSHIP AND CAREER TRAINING (C-LECT) PROGRAMME AT JUVENILE CORRECTIONAL CENTRES

Early January we reached out to children in 4 different juvenile centres in Nigeria. We empowered them with key leadership and life skills. We also equipped them with design thinking skills and they created solutions to many of the societal problems. The response was great and we were inspired by the children, the level of intelligence they possess and the potential to make a difference in the 21st-century world. We decided to include C-LECT (career, leadership, entrepreneurship and character training) into our curriculum. This is a 7 week-long program that deepens the knowledge of children at the juvenile centers in leadership, career development, and character training.

We had the first pilot today at Oregun Correctional Centre for Boys and Idi-Araba Correctional Centre for girls. We employed the training of trainers approach and we had 50 students representative in each class. We Introduced them to personal and servant leadership. We brought in seasoned leadership experts/youth educators. They learned about how they can lead themselves first. You can’t give what you don’t have one of the speakers said. The students learned how to develop a mission statement, vision statement, core values, and importance of time management. Student-Teacher (Midway) or Discussion method of teaching was employed. “Leadership is not being in charge but taking care of the people you are in charge of.” One of the things they went home with. We also learned about the concept of servant leadership and they learned that before they can make decisions for others, they have to put people first.

They had readings from the book “The Africa I Dream To See” to enhance their literacy skills and to also encourage them to take action and find their African Dream. Several inferences and analogies were drawn from the book on leadership.

It was an exciting moment, as the session ended with a leadership game titled “Unlocking the circle”. Some set of students formed a circle, held each other’s hands and tried to change positions without hurting others and their hands locked. It was really interesting to see how students learned about some key leadership skills throughout the game.

To end the session, we had three students share their reflections from the session and summarized what they have learned.

Students also commit themselves to cascade to other students within the centre and commit to reading the introduction and chapter one of The Africa I Dream To See before the next class which holds next Saturday.

We appreciate Hammed Kayode Alabi for playing a huge role in the conceptualization of this project and also facilitating the first session for the boys. We also appreciate Ennie Sophie Oluwa for facilitating the first session for the girls.

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Group sues Fed Govt over custodial centre’s congestion

A non-governmental organisation, the Prisoners’ Rights Advocacy Initiative (PRAI), has asked the Federal High Court in Lagos to compel the Federal Government to build more custodial centres in Lagos.

It is praying for a declaration that the overcrowded state of the Ikoyi Medium Security Custodial Centre, where some inmates were electrocuted, is unconstitutional.

According to PRAI, congestion violates the inmates’ fundamental right to freedom from degrading treatment guaranteed by Section 34(1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).

The group said the Ikoyi Medium Security Custodial Centre was built in 1955 to accommodate 800 inmates, but held about 3,113 inmates as at December 3.

The Federal Government, Attorney-General of the Federation, Minister of Interior, Nigerian Correctional Service Controller-General, Lagos State Controller, Lagos Attorney-General and the Chief Judge of Lagos are the respondents.

The plaintiff said the overcrowding also violates Section 12(8) of the Nigerian Correctional Service Act 2019, which prohibits keeping inmates in a custodial centre that has exceeded its capacity.

PRAI said the congestion breaches the Federal Government’s duties under Rules 1, 12 and 13 the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for Treatment of Prisoners (as revised in 2015) to maintain the minimum standard of accommodation of inmates, as well other statutes.

PRAI is seeking “a declaration that the arrest and continued remand, without proper arraignment and trial in a court of competent jurisdiction, of all inmates as of the day of judgment in this application, who have been in custody beyond the maximum imprisonment terms of the respective offences they have been charged is unlawful and unconstitutional as it violates their fundamental right to personal liberty and freedom of movement as guaranteed by Sections 35(1)(f) and 41 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended)”.

It wants the court to order the release of all such inmates.

PRAI urged the court to hold that the dearth of functional basic amenities, including vocational and recreational centres, health facilities, as well as failure to keep safe and conducive custody of inmates, which resulted in the electrocution incident, all breach the inmates’ rights.

PRAI sought an order compelling the Federal Government to keep the Ikoyi Medium Security Custodial Centre in the good shape by providing the necessary vocational, educational, recreational health facilities.

It further prayed the court to order the Federal Government to build more correctional facilities in the Lagos within 12 months from the date judgment is delivered.

The suit has been assigned to Justice Mohammed Liman and is fixed for January 13.

PRAI, in a December 11 letter to the Minister of Interior Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, called for a thorough investigation of the Ikoyi Custodial Centre electrocution incident.

It urged the Federal Government to pay at least N10million compensation to the verified next of kin.

At least five inmates were electrocuted at the centre last December 2; about 10 others were injured.

PRAI, through its Executive Director Ahmed Adetola-Kazeem, commended the minister for visiting the scene to personally assess the situation, and to suspend some officers to aid the investigation.

The non-governmental organisation, which advocates for prisoners’ rights, said the investigative findings should be made public.

It called for the sanctioning of those found culpable, to serve as a deterrent to others and to forestall a re-occurrence.

PRAI further urged the Federal Government to “disclose the identity of all the deceased and injured victims”.

It added: “This will ensure transparency and proper representation for those of them who may be lacking one at the moment.”

PRAI urged the Federal Government to “pay adequate compensation to families of the deceased inmates and those injured”.

“Nothing less than N10 million should be paid to verified next of kin of the deceased inmates as compensation for the loss of their loved ones.

“We shall be recommending payment of at least N3milion to the injured depending on the gravity of the injury.

“The injured should also be unconditionally released upon consideration of the offence they have been alleged to have committed and the gravity of the injury sustained.”

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Praises, concerns for new prison law

To the wide applause of stakeholders in the Nigerian criminal justice system, President Muhammadu Buhari, last week, signed into law the 11-year-old Nigerian Correctional Service Bill.

Nigerian prisons had been heavily criticised for their overcrowded state and poor conditions.

Experts said in such a state, the prisons in the country lacked the capacity to reform errant society members sent there for correction.

Rather than being reformed and turning a new leaf, many offenders sent to the prisons, according to experts, become hardened and turn to recidivists.

Obsolete legislation, slow justice system and inadequate funding are prominent on the list of challenges identified by stakeholders to be hobbling the capacity of the Nigerian prisons to reform locked-up inmates.

It was against this background that the signing of the Nigerian Correctional Service Bill last week by the President was hailed by many familiar with the system.

With the newly-signed law, the Nigerian Prisons Service had its name changed to the Nigerian Correctional Service, to reflect and satisfy the yearning of the concerned stakeholders for reformation of prison inmates.

But beyond the name change, the law has many provisions, which experts have described as laudable and cheering.

For instance, as a direct response to the overcrowded prisons, the law, in its Section 12 (8), empowers the State Controller of Correctional Service to reject the intake of additional inmates where the facility under his watch is filled to capacity.

The Section 12(8) read: “Without prejudice to subsection (4), the State Controller of Correctional Service, in conjunction with the Correctional Centre Superintendent, shall have the power to reject more intakes of inmates where it is apparent that the correctional centre in question is filled to capacity.”

In the same vein, the law also made a strong case for the use of non-custodial sentencing for minor offenders instead of sending them to already overcrowded jails.

The problem of prison congestion in the country is huge.

For instance, the March 2019 edition of the Lagos State Criminal Information System revealed that though the five prisons in Lagos State have a combined holding capacity of 4,087, they were holding 9,044 inmates as of March this year.

A former Controller of Prisons in Lagos State, Mr Tunde Ladipo (now an Assistant Controller General), said the Badagry Prison, which was built to house only a little over 100 inmates, was at a time locking over 700 inmates.

The Executive Director, Prisoners’ Rights Advocacy Initiative, Mr Ahmed Adetola-Kazeem, a staunch crusader for prison reforms, described the new law as “a watershed in the history of treatment of offenders in Nigeria.”

However, he raised concern about the practicability of Section 12(8), which empowered the State Controller of Correctional Service to reject additional inmates when the facility under his watch is full.

“The question then is: where will the inmates be taken to? Will such an inmate be released, particularly where he has been alleged to have committed heinous crimes? This particular provision is very unrealistic unless more prisons are built, considering our population as a country, and more particularly in urban areas like Lagos, Kano, Rivers etc,” Adetola-Kazeem said.

He believes that except more prisons are built, that provision of the law would not work as prisons in the country have already overshot their capacity.

Adetola-Kazeem said the need had arisen to move the prison from the Exclusive Legislative List to the Concurrent Legislative List, so that both the Federal Government and the states can share the burden of funding the prison.

He said until this was done and more prisons were built, the law might be merely academic.

“It is suggested that the prison be removed from the Exclusive Legislative List, so that states can cater for many of the inmates in prison who committed or have been alleged to commit state offences; that will lessen the burden of the Federal Government. The state should build their prison,” he said.

Also, the Senior Legal Officer, Human Rights Law Services, Mr Collins Okeke, argued that making the states share in the responsibility of funding the prison would help to check indiscriminate imprisonment of people for minor offences created by state laws.

Okeke said, “Because of the way our constitution is crafted, prison is on the Exclusive Legislative List, under the control of the Federal Government, so, state governments really don’t care and magistrates just keep sending people to prison and the Federal Government continues to pay; and for the Federal Government, nobody is really asking questions about how much is going into servicing the prisons.

“I believe that there is a need somewhere along the line for an argument to be made that prisons should be removed from the Exclusive Legislative List and put in the Concurrent Legislative List, so that the states can participate in the building and funding of prisons.”

On the new law’s provision for the use of non-custodial sentencing, Adetola-Kazeem said lack of reliable data would pose a challenge.

He said, “The Correctional Services Act cannot work effectively unless some attention is paid to other aspect of our national life.

“The non-custodial measures, such as community service, probation, parole etc, may not work effectively if we do not have reliable data of every person in Nigeria.

“If you don’t have reliable information on people you can’t effectively trace them when they abscond. Furthermore, technologies, like trackers, need to be adopted to effectively track those on parole, for instance, to prevent them from escaping justice.”

On a general note, Adetola-Kazeem said for the law to achieve its main aim of reforming inmates, the prisons, most of which are old, needed infrastructural upgrade.

He said, “There is a need for infrastructural upgrade and training and retraining of correctional officers for the new Act to have any effect.

“In order for the Act to fulfill its aim of reforming, rehabilitating and reintegrating offenders, there needs to be fewer people in our overcrowded prisons and adequate officials, coupled with the provision of state-of-the-art training facilities.

“This will ensure that most inmates can benefit from educational and vocational training, which will be of immense benefit to them after their release.”

The Executive Director, Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants, Mr Sylvester Uhaa, also hailed the final signing of the new law, which he said had been too long in coming.

However, despite describing it as “a great legislation with wonderful innovations,” Uhaa is concerned about the culture of poor implementation of laws in Nigeria.

He said, “I am concerned that the Federal Government, as we have seen in the past, may not adequately fund its implementation, especially with respect to the non-custodial options, which will require significant amount of financial and human resources, political will and commitment.”

Like other experts, Uhaa believes that it was time that states partook in the running and funding of the prison, without, which, he doubted, the new law could achieve its aims.

“If states are not willing to support the Federal Government, the financial implication of implementing the Act will soon become too heavy for the Federal Government. So, I urge state governments to support the Federal Government in implementing the Act,” he said.

While expressing his delight that his advocacy for rejection of intake of additional inmates in overcrowded facilities was captured in the new law, Uhaa said except the State Controller of the Correctional Services demonstrated courage, that provision would be easily frustrated.

He said, “The provision on rejection of inmates by the service is something I vigorously campaigned for; and I am happy it has come.

“But the implementation of this provision requires a lot of courage and determination on the part of the service, and I hope the Controllers will be courageous enough to do the right thing, not minding the conflicts this might generate between the judiciary and the States Controllers.”

Like Adetola-Kazeem, Uhaa emphasised the need for facility upgrade and commitment to the training of inmates.

He added, “I also want to see innovations in the area of prisoners’ rehabilitation and reintegration.

“For example, we can recruit teachers from the N-Power scheme to teach in prisons and also release some inmates to work on release programmes, among others.

“In addition, the successful implementation of the Act depends very much on the level of inter-agency cooperation among the Police, Judiciary and the Correctional Services, as well as on judicial and police reforms.

“If, for example, the high level of indiscriminate and unlawful arrest of innocent and poor people by law enforcement agencies continues, the courts and the correctional facilities will remain congested.

“So, every effort must be made to ensure that law enforcement agencies, judiciary and the Correctional Services respect the rule of law and human rights in their operations, and that there is accountability to check impunity, corruption and abuse of power, which are prevalent in the system and have undermined the credibility of our criminal justice system.”

Uhaa added that the society needed a change of orientation and attitude towards prisoners observing community service or are on parole and diversion, for the provision of the law on non-custodial sentences to work.

For Okeke of HURILAWS, the law has not done enough to address the wide call for abolition of death penalty in the country.

Section 12 (2) (c) of the new law provides that, “Where an inmate sentenced to death has exhausted all legal procedures for appeal and a period of 10 years has elapsed without execution of the sentence, the chief judge may commute the sentence of death to life imprisonment.”

Okeke, who said this provision was not extraordinary, said what the country needed was a moratorium on death penalty.

He said, “That provision is laudable but it is not something extraordinary because that has actually been the practice; it is just that it is not in the law.

“If you notice, over the years, what happens is that, in Lagos, for instance, the state has not executed anybody. What they have done over the years is that when a death row inmate has stayed up to between 15 and 20 years, they commute the sentence to life imprisonment. So, it is not new.

“What we are hoping would happen is a situation where the country would have a moratorium on execution of death row inmates. A moratorium means that government takes a definite position as it relates to death penalty, by saying we are going to formally halt death sentence.

“At the moment, we have an informal halt because execution of death row inmates is not taking place; but there is no legislative backing for that.

“What we advocate is a moratorium. Our argument is that our criminal justice system has a lot of loopholes that make it possible for many innocent people to find themselves on death row. So, we are saying, why don’t we have a moratorium while the government continues to reform the criminal justice system, instead of keeping these people on death row perpetually on the apprehension that they could be executed at any time?”