Surveying Prison Reform Agenda
By Ugwuoke Kelvin Abuchi
The 2017 Prison Survey Report was launched on the 1st of February, 2018 by the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Mohammadu Buhari.
The Survey is not only apt, but invaluable in this time when the prison system yearns for a systematic solution to its age-long plights. The Survey is in three volumes: The first volume is a research on Pre-Trail Detention in Nigeria; the second volume investigates the Socio-economic Characteristics of Prisoners and Impact of Imprisonment in Nigeria; while the third volume is a Perception Survey of Prison Officers in Nigeria.
The Survey is a brainchild of the Nigerian Prisons Service (NPS) and the Prisoners’ Rehabilitation and Welfare Action (PRAWA), a non-governmental organization whose objective is to promote institutional reforms in formal and informal sectors for access to justice, rehabilitation and social development within the Nigerian penal system.
The 2017 Prison Survey Report was funded by the government of the United Kingdom, and a foreword by the Minister of Interior, Abdulrahman Bello Dambazau.
There is no gainsaying that the major challenges bedeviling the Nigerian prison system include, but not limited to, overcrowding of its facilities by Awaiting Trial Persons (ATPs), the weak and antiquated facilities, low staff morale as well as inadequate funding by the government.
These challenges and more were clearly enumerated in the 2017 Survey Report which was conducted in three (3) selected prisons namely; Ikoyi, Enugu and Kano Central. Participants in the survey were both prison officers and inmates of the selected prisons with a view to unravel the present condition of the prisons as well as issues hindering her from meeting the minimum standards of the United Nations and other Human Rights Charters which Nigeria is signatory to.
The first volume of the Survey Report is a Research on Pre-trial Detention in Nigeria. The survey aimed at identifying the root causes, trends and other dynamics that helps to explain the high levels of inflow of Awaiting Trial Prisoners (ATPs), as well as document the status and condition of the sampled prisons across the geopolitical zones in Nigeria.
The survey unraveled that about 76 percent of prison inmates as of December 2016, 74 percent as of March 2017 and 79 percent as of September 2017 are ATPs; and that most of them are males who falls within the youthful age. Results from the survey also found that many of the prisoners are poor with low education and employment levels, and most of them being breadwinners in their families. The survey reported that most prisoners are charged for property and property related crimes, with the police said to be responsible for most of the arrests of the detainees.
Most of the cases, according to the survey, were reported to be either stalled or taking time to conclude, with some of the ATPs not even aware of the status of their cases in court. The survey points out that many of the ATPs were not granted bail and for those granted, the conditions were stringent and many are still in custody unable to meet their bail conditions. It reported lack of comprehensive prison data of all those granted bail and that many ATPs do not have legal or active legal representation.
With regard to the consequences of having a high ATP population, the survey reported that it increases pressure on available facilities and compounds the burden of transportation to and fro courts on daily basis coupled with attendant security implications. Also, the survey reported that many of the prisoners indicated that they have no confidence in the Criminal Justice System with the police having the worst rating from the prisoners.
The second volume of the Report centres on the Socio-Economic Characteristics of Prisoners and the Impact of Imprisonment in Nigeria. It aims at providing some information that will help identify strategies for effectively addressing problems of prisoners, ex-prisoners, the Nigerian Prisons Service and the Criminal Justice System in general.
The findings indicates that there is a strong nexus between poverty and imprisonment, as most of the prisoners are abjectly poor, with low education and employment status, and earned little before imprisonment. The survey found that the socio-economic impact of excessive use of prison custody affects the prisoners, their families and the Nigerian Prisons Service.
The survey observed a high number of sick inmates and evidences of substance use prior and during imprisonment. According to the report, most prisoners have no history of previous conviction and many of them indicated that they did not commit the offences which they were charged or sentenced for.
The last volume of the report is a Perception Survey of Prison Officers in Nigeria, with the objective to provide information on the socio-demographic characteristics and perception of Prison Officers on Prison Administration and the Criminal Justice process. Results showed that most Prison Officers are males in their middle career level with high educational level.
Many of the officers have work experience both from the current and past stations they have served in, working in the Administration and Operations units of the prison. According to the survey, the most enjoyable aspect of the prison career as reported by the prison officers were helping others, cooperation amongst staff as well as training and development; while the most difficult aspect was the long hours they spend at their work and taking inmates to and fro court.
The report also indicated their concerns to include irregularities of their promotions, poor remunerations, non-availability of working tools, obsolete equipment, threats from inmates and corruption.
Also, gender issues among staff were unraveled in the report. It was found that many of the prison officers have not undertaken gender sensitivity training; while some reported that the career path of male and female officers are not the same, citing that no female has attained the rank of Controller General of Prisons since the inception of the service.
The tripartite report proffered recommendations which are geared towards improving the prison system in Nigeria.
Some of them include among others: the implementation of legal provision of institutional and individual incentives aimed at encouraging greater compliance, promoting legislative reforms aimed at institutionalization of processes so as to enhance access to justice and correctional best practices, encouraging less use of pre-trial detention and increased utilization of alternatives to imprisonment, and implementation of effective prison and community based rehabilitation programmes in prison.
Other policy suggestions include; strategic engagement with the leadership of the Nigerian Prison Service and where necessary with relevant agencies including the Executive and the Legislature to articulate clear strategies to effectively address the issues identified by the prison staff as their key concerns, mainstreaming gender training in the Nigerian Prisons Service training and operations as well as career support and mentorship for women in correctional service.
Finally, that the leadership of the Nigerian Prisons Service should effectively engage with relevant agencies to review the welfare package of prison officers as well as establish an enhanced performance-based appraisal process with performance tracking and regular promotion built into it.
As mentioned earlier on, this report is apt and a wake-up call for policymakers and key players in the criminal justice sector to bring our prison out of the woods. From the report, it can be deciphered that major issues bugging down the prison system in Nigeria were highlighted.
The report took cognizance of the prison staff by highlighting their concerns, challenges and socio-demographic characteristics. There is dearth of information on prison officers as over the years, research interests have beamed on the prisoners without taking note of the officers who are very cardinal to the corrections process.
This survey report has filled in that vacuum by involving the prison officers. And from the results, many of their challenges and concerns have been brought to the open. Another plus to the study is its use of simple and concise language in reporting the findings. Research jargons were left out. This report can be read by, and comprehended by the layman.
Its syntax and diction are appropriate considering that the report is for public digestion.
However, there are loopholes in the methodology of the survey. First and foremost, the sample size used in the study was not representative enough. The survey made use of only three (3) out of the over two hundred (200) prisons nationwide.
Out of the over 70,000 inmates in Nigerian prisons at the time of conducting the survey, only about 4,216 prisoners (6%) were surveyed. On the side of the prison officers, out of the over 28,000 prison officers nationwide, only a paltry 221 (0.8%) participated. This to me is a sampling error and in research circle, this flaw can render the results invalid and unreliable. Also, the small sample size limits the frame of generalization.
Surveys are characterized by bogus and large sample size unlike case studies and other qualitative methods which can tolerate small samples. One would have expected the researchers to employ formulae for determining appropriate sample size such as the Taro Yamane Formula or the Cochran’s formula or any other statistical formula for high confidence level and wider generalization.
Again, the survey did not include prison officers working in the various headquarters offices, farm centres and industries. This is a serious flaw as these officers are no pushovers in the realization of prison mandates.
These are officers who conduct administrative duties in the state and zonal commands, as well as the national headquarters office. Their functions are mostly paperwork and have different dimensions of challenges unlike their counterparts serving in the prison yard. One would have expected them to constitute the participants too, in order to hear their views and challenges as they perform their statutory duties.
In conclusion, the report is a good one and has brought the challenges of the prison system to public light. What is expected now is the urgent action of policymakers to implement the recommendations made in this report.
The government should study this report and set machineries to improve on the current situation of the Nigerian prisons. Also, this report should be an annual exercise to keep in tab with the happening in our prisons and also put the government and all those involved in the Criminal Justice System on their toes.
DSP Ugwuoke Kelvin Abuchi
Medium Security Prison
Makurdi, Benue state
NPS Decorates 107 Prisons Officers in Osun
The Controller of Prisons, Osun State Command, Mr Segun Oluwasemire, has charged officers and men of the service in the state to raise their levels of professionalism and dedication in the discharge of their assigned duties.
The Controller spoke recently during the decoration of 107 newly promoted officers, in Osogbo.
The 107 officers are part of the promotions recently announced by the Controller General of Prisons, Mr Ja’afaru Ahmed.
Oluwasemire commended the leadership of the Controller General of Prisons for the reforms and progressions of personnel in Nigeria Prisons Service under his able leadership and urged the newly promoted officers to reciprocate the gesture by exhibiting high level of professionalism in their dealings with inmates.
“As professional correction officers, you need to be very conversant with the laws, and Prisons’ Standing Orders which are meant to help you achieve excellence in your responsibilities,” he said.
Mr Ope Fatinikun(DCP), Mr Mathew Ajagono (ACP), officers-in-charge, Ilesa Prison and Medium Security Prison, Ile-Ife, respectively, and other senior officers, assisted the Controller in decorating the officers.
Responding on behalf of the newly promoted officers, Mr Ayobami Adelakun, a Deputy Controller of Prisons (DCP), expressed gratitude to the Controller General and pledged the loyalty and commitment of his colleagues.
ASP Olusola Adeotan
Command Public Relations Officer (CPRO)
Nigerian Prisons Service
Osun State Command
Gombe Prison Officers Trained on Weapon Handling
The State Controller of prisons Gombe Command Ahmadu Adamu has called on the newly inducted personnel of the Armed Squad to use the knowledge gained during their training in the discharge of their duties, saying discipline and professionalism shall always be their watch word and the change from the use of Baton to Rifles should not be seen as an avenue to misbehave.
The Controller made the remarks during the passing out parade of Fifteen (15) newly inducted armed squad personnel of the Nigerian Prisons Service (NPS) after undergoing two (2) weeks intensive training at the Headquarters parade ground.
Controller Adamu added that they would be sent for further training at Armed Squad Training School Owerri this year.
The Deputy Controller of Prisons and officer in charge of Administration, Haruna Lawrence urged the officers to be of good behaviour at all the time considering the sensitive nature of their assigment in weapon handling.
The personnel were among the Twenty Eight (28) conventional staff that went for weapons training at 301 Artillery Regiment (General Support) Gombe in July 2017.
They were certified on weapon handling, regimentation and protection. This induction training acquaints participants with rudiments of Nigerian Prisons Armed Squad Unit.
GAMBO MUSA BADE
NIGERIAN PRISONS SERVICE
GOMBE STATE COMMAND