AIM OF ESTABLISHING CORRECTIONAL CENTRES
The main aim of establishing the correctional centres in all parts of the world including Nigeria is to provide a rehabilitation and correctional facility for those who have violated the rules and regulations of their society. However, the extent to which this maxim is true in practice has been a subject of controversy. A casual observation of the population that goes in and out of the correctional centres in Nigeria presupposes that there are some problems in the system, hence the correctional system has not been able to live up to its expected role in Nigeria. Any prison, but a Nigerian prison in particular, is a terrible place to be. Apart from the denial of basic human freedom, you have the vast majority of inmates living under the most inhumane conditions, especially if they are awaiting trial. Everything that makes life a little less agonizing has to be bought or endured. Violence, sexual abuse, all forms of dehumanization and rampant corruption on the part of prison officials are every inch a part of the system.
PROBLEMS WITH NIGERIAN CORRECTIONAL CENTRES
The Nigerian Correctional Service, formerly known as Nigerian Prison Service is a government agency of Nigeria which operates correctional centres. The Nigerian correctional centres have been enormously characterized by some problems, which several studies have indicated to be the reasons for the inadequacies of the system as a corrective institution. In various respects, life in Nigerian correctional centres in general is overly regimented to the extent that there is strict control in virtually all activities of the inmates. This often leaves the inmates in a mentally brutalized manner with broken body and spirit, which destroys the individuals. In this regard, it is apparent that the correctional system in Nigeria is faced with the problem of destroying the individual members of the community, which negates the essence of imprisonment, amounting to human development wastage in the national calculus. It is evident that various correctional centres in Nigeria are saddled with the problem of turning out maladjusted releases. Studies have shown that contact with the correctional service in Nigeria makes the less hardened individuals to be more hardened in criminal activities upon release, with more tendencies than not, to relapse to criminal activities, which generates high frequency of recidivism. The penal institutions subsystems; the justice, the police, correctional system and the operatives ways of administering justice is believed to bring about breeding and enhancing criminal behavior and recidivists than serving; deterrence, repentance, reformatory and reconciliatory attitudes between ex-convicts and people in free society to enhance confidence in physical and conceptual security
Another problem is that of safety and security, in 2019, A power surge was reportedly responsible for an incident which led to the electrocution of 5 inmates and several injuries. The main cause of this problem is over crowding of the facility, on the average, a cell accommodates five times its original capacity. This overcrowding has fueled rival gang feuds, rising violence, sexual molestation, irregular and unhealthy feeding patterns. Overcrowding and a lack of staff is creating a very volatile situation at all the correctional facilities around Nigeria.
The problems bedeviling the Nigerian Correctional centers are numerous, however, rooted in one source; overcrowding. The enhancement of safety and security of the centers should begin with decongestion.
SUGGESTIONS FOR SOLVING THE PROBLEMS
Firstly, the Nigerian Correctional Service Act of 2019, not only changes the name but provides in S.12 (4), that where the centre is over-crowded appropriate authorities should be notified to rectify it within three months. S.10 provides that inmates awaiting trial with minor offences or civil cases should be released or transferred to non-custodial centres. This will prune the population in each centre, thereby providing more welfare for the inmates leading to a safer custodial environment. There is an urgent need to institute alternative measures to imprisonment. When this is done, the number of people going to prison will be reduced. One of the notable alternative measures is the New Restorative Justice mechanism, which has been tested and proved to be effective in some developed countries.
Similarly, the government should reduce pressure on its facilities, in order to improve care of inmates, particularly in reformation, rehabilitation, and re-adjustment to normal life when they completed their terms. This is necessary as their mental health is in constant turmoil due to the lack of mobility activities, constant sexual molestation, inadequate exposure to nature and the outdoors. This has made them violent, irrational, and a menace to themselves.
Also, inmates should be occupied with productive activities. 100 per cent engagement of inmates in employment, life skills, education and programs to address their offending behavior. Designing of skills training should be made to satisfy the aspiration of most inmates. Limiting the training facilities to carpentry, bricklaying, barbing, paint making etc. may not lead to successful rehabilitation. More crafts and vocational skills, including computer operation should be included in the prisons vocational curriculum in order to provide opportunity for those that still aspire for higher educational qualifications and to boost the esteem of the prisoners when they are released. Violence inside a correctional center can take place anywhere, hence, determining what skill is safe and what is unsafe in a potentially high risk and violent environment, is difficult. Inmates in correctional centers can and do have history of violent behaviors and they may turn violent on a moment’s notice due to well-planned, spontaneous actions or provoked situations. Critical incidents can turn into lethal situations in seconds and tight security is necessary to deter such ideas or occurrence.
Furthermore, legal actions should be instituted by Rights and Advocacy groups against the Nigerian Correctional Service. This reflects public interest in inmates welfare. The groups should request that the courts order decongestion of correctional centre and also review the cases of inmates awaiting trial or on holding charge
There is no doubt that inmates, whether awaiting trial or not, deserve to be protected and kept safe. Non-governmental organizations should be encouraged and allowed to visit the prisons to monitor the activities there, from which they can make an input in form of suggestions to appropriate authorities
The facilities at the correctional centres should be improved, more fully equipped prison yards need to be built in line with the standard of distribution of prisons across the country . Security measures should be put in place to ensure public safety, this includes, community correctional centres, parole offices managed by the Correctional Service of Nigeria and more facilities run by non-governmental partners. Fire-fighting equipment should be provided in all the correctional centres and all the cells rehabilitated. More personnel should be employed to better cater for inmates, as shortage of staff has led to herd treatment and service. The health of the inmates also poses a problem to their safety. No health care or treatment is provided, they are a danger to themselves and the society. Most prisoners currently in prison are going to come out soon and return to society, the diseases/conditions they potentially acquire in prison will ultimately become part of the society’s burden, and potentially transmitted. Hence, properly health Insurance should be provided for inmates to contain illness and diseases
Finally, basic multi-dimensional strategies should be put in place to ensure better safety practices in correctional centers to give inmates the confidence to feel safe and allow them to adapt. There should be computerization of the total prisons system for administrative records. Matching inmate fingerprints and identity is much desired at this present time in Nigerian development. This has to go together with the overhauling of the prison staff in terms of requisite qualifications that are necessary for the present challenges.