Recent reports from Prisoners’ Rehabilitation and Welfare Action (PRAWA) in partnership with the Nigerian Prisons Service (NPS) revealed that Nigeria has an unflattering crime portfolio and has not done much to remedy its huge prison infrastructure deficit.
According to the fact sheet released by PRAWA, the failure of the Nigerian state to build more prisons or expand existing ones since 1960 when the population was 47.2million or complete the proposed 47 prisons in 1980 with a 73.7 million population has occasioned the dire state of prison infrastructure. Thus with an estimated 182.2 million, the country still grapples with prison infrastructure designed to cater for the 1960s.
The fact sheet traced back to Nigeria’s long history of neglect and poor funding of prison, saying it was not until 1980 when the population of Nigeria had risen to 73.7 million that the issue of prison infrastructure was revisited by the government. That year, to make up for the exploding population and the creation of states and local government areas, the federal government decided to build 47 new prisons. These prisons were either to be sited in locations to serve the new criminal justice jurisdictions arising from the creation of new states or to replace some of the native authority prisons which had become highly dilapidated while effort were made to upgrade existing ones.
These efforts were however viewed as only partly successful given that almost 40years after the 1980 proposal and with an exploding population of about 182.2million in 2017, only 20 prisons of the 47 proposed prisons have been completed. It was also discovered that, the 12 other prisons that could have been regarded as completed are without barracks and therefore cannot operate as prisons. The prisons without barracks include, Ogwashi Uku Delta, Aguata Anambra, Keffi Nasarawa, Auchi Edo, Ilorin Kwara, Okene Kogi and Kabba Kogi. Others are ondo ondo, Yenagoa, Bayelsa, Kotonkarfe, Kogi and Numan Adamawa. Other prisons in various stages of completion include Ibadan Oyo, Gashua Borno, Omoku Rivers, Okitipupa Ondo and Birnin Gwari, Kaduna. It is perhaps a measure of the level of dearth of infrastructure in the prison system that some of these uncompleted prison projects are being put to use.
Prison reform has however taken a good turn as interventions driven by Non-Governmental Organizations like PRAWA has ensured high profile conversation on the conditions of the prisons. Prisons Authorities were also sufficiently comfortable to open up the prisons to the media which has resulted to first hand access to the huge infrastructural deficit in the prisons. These efforts gave rise to the prisons reform initiative of 1998 and the 2003 National conference on prisons which again threw searchlights on the deplorable condition of prisons in the country.
Also, the current administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has also initiated some prison infrastructure reform by ploughing N9.064 billion of the N14.435 billion 2016 capital allocations for prisons into prison infrastructure face-lift. As a matter of fact, work has commenced in the following Kano, Calabar, Lafia Orlu, Gwagwalada, Mbaise, and Obudu.
However, given the longstanding decay and the magnitude of infrastructural deficit, this would seem like a drop in the ocean, thus the need for more deliberate and improved funding. In this vein, there has been continuous clamour toward speedy dispensation of justice by ensuring quick determination of cases which is expected to aid decongestion of the available infrastructure. Experts also suggested the use of non-custodial measures like bail, community service sentence and fines especially for minor offences that need not attract imprisonment thereby reducing the prison population.
Furthermore, while an urgent assessment and upgrade of all prison facilities have become urgent to bring them in line with international standards, upgrade of prison staff facilities is crucial in boosting morale among the prison workforce. Government should as a matter of deliberate effort explore the Public-Private sector partnership model in revitalizing prisons infrastructure especially with respect to prison staff housing scheme.