Controller of Prisons, Abia Command, Julius Ezugwu, on Tuesday, says that no fewer than 1,389 inmates are awaiting trials in various prisons in the state.
The controller, who decried the situation, said that only about 140 inmates were convicts.
Ezugwu disclosed this in Umuahia, during the presentation of the baseline report on ‘De-criminalisation and De-clarification of Petty Offences in Nigeria’ by the Prisoner’s Rehabilitation and Welfare Action (PRAWA).
He said the figure which included those of Aba, Arochukwu and Umuahia prisons represented about 90 per cent of the total number of inmates in prison custody in the state.
The controller identified congestion as the major problem confronting the Nigerian Prisons Service, stressing that many prisons were working more than their capacity.
He said that the huge number of the awaiting trial inmates contributed largely to the congestion in prisons across the nation.
According to him, some of the agencies involved in the criminal justice sector do not actually understand what the law says about minor offences.
“Such minor offences are not supposed to be criminalised, but the irony is that such minor offences because they do not have legal representations, are remanded in prison custody.
“And because of that, there have been problems of people who are innocent being incarcerated,” he said.
Ezugwu called on all the agencies in the criminal justice sector to collaborate to tackle the problem of congestion in Nigerian prisons.
Justice Onuoha Ogwe, the Chief Judge of Abia, called for sensitisation among stakeholders in the criminal justice system in the decriminalisation and declassification of petty offences.
Ogwe expressed the need for the nation to have a separate prison for those awaiting trial and those convicted.
He also charged the Federal Government to either build more prisons or expand the existing ones in order to solve the problem of congestion.
The chief judge commended the organisers for the initiative and promised to work with them to achieve its objectives in the state.
Mrs Uju Agomoh, the Executive Director, PRAWA said the baseline report was being supported by the Open Society Initiatives for West Africa (OSIWA).
She said the research would run as a two-year project in the first instance and was being implemented in Nigeria.
News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Abia is one of the five focus states, including Lagos, Enugu, Kanu, Abuja, for the project.