The issue of insecurity in Nigerian prisons is a fundamental crisis that gives both the government and the people cause for concern. According to the 2014 Prison statistic, the Nigeria Prison Service (NPS) managed about 240 prison facilities, ranging from maximum security prisons, medium term security prisons, satellite prisons, borstal institutions for the juvenile, farm centres, open prison camps and female prisons. Some of which had, in recent years, witnessed the unofficial or illegal release of inmates from custody.
In the last couple of years, not less than 20 cases of jail breaks have been recorded, instigated by both internal and external forces. While some were due to the negligence of security agents, others were due to conspiracy, security deficit in prisons, inadequate personnel, and lack of modern security gadgets.
Certainly, many of the prisons were built during the colonial period and had retained their colonial outlook ever since. There is no simultaneous increase between high rate of crime committed and the number of available prison facilities. The country’s rising number of convicts and awaiting trial inmates do not correspond with the available prison facilities.
Government, in this case, exhibits lack of vision and do not see beyond the present while making policy and developing its plans. Although, there might have been policies not implemented by concerned authorities, and the funds provided for the development of prisons in the country stolen by those saddled with making things better in our correctional facilities, it is high time something was done to make our prisons more conducive for inmates; this will definitely reduce the incidents of jail breaks.
One of the problems facing our correctional centres may not be unconnected with our poor judicial system, the high rate of crime, unnecessary arrests and delay of cases by prosecutors. All these create burden on the existing facilities, making them unable to meet with the present reality.
Therefore, one can say that the congestion of our prisons is partly responsible for the jail breaks we have been experiencing in recent time. Apart from the congestion, some inmates are treated in terrible manners by prison officials. It can, therefore, be said that many prison officers either lacked proper orientation, or have narrow idea about what prison management is all about.
These people see the prison as a place where criminals are kept. Yes, they are right, the prison is a place where criminals are kept, but the function of the prison is beyond this conception. People need to understand that the functions of a prison range from retribution, punishment for crime against society, incapacitation, removal of criminal from the society so that they can no longer harm innocent people, deterrence, prevention of future crime, and lastly, rehabilitation.
In prisons, there are several activities designed to change convicted criminals into law abiding citizens, and this may include providing education courses and vocational skills, while psychologists also assist inmates in believing in themselves. All these are either unavailable or given little priority by the Nigeria Prisons Service, thus making it difficult for inmates to understand why they are in prison beyond the crime they committed.
In the same vein, part of what encourage the inmates to attack warders is the frustration in the cell. The prison cells are worrisome. Prisoners are faced with horrible experiences — there are poor toilets, poor healthcare system, poor food, lack of potable water, denial of access to justice/ relatives, poor living conditions, maltreatment, and lack of beds.
While some are held in isolation, others are locked up for many years without justice. It is, therefore, unfortunate that the authority shows little concern to how inmates are treated.
All these create psychological implication, thus making inmates to express their grievances through the use of force against prison officials.
Also, the issue of lack of internal security in prisons is often due to the negligence of security officers, conspiracy, indiscipline, lack of proper training, passion, dedication and commitment towards the assigned duty.
The fact is that, most of the officials stationed at various prisons across the country often show no evidence of patriotism towards their jobs. This is one of the problems affecting the Nigerian security system.
Apart from the jail breaks linked to the internal security deficit, others are linked to external forces. A prison housing the leader of a top criminal or terrorist gang is likely to be attacked in a bid to free the criminal.
However, having said all these, one must not ignore the fact that our prisons can be productive centres if they are run as they should. Prisons should not only be seen as places where convicts or awaiting trial inmates are kept. They should be centres that can contribute to the economic prosperity of the nation.
As a result, there is the need to explore every opportunity in reestablishing the focus of our correctional centres, where inmates can be happy and well catered for. This will definitely reduce the incidences of jail breaks.
- Abdulrazaq is Assistant Research Officer at Grassroots Development and Advocacy Centre (GDAC), Ilorin.