How stakeholders reviewed, set agenda for Oyo state community service scheme

Stakeholders in the Criminal Justice Reform Sector across Oyo State on Wednesday met for a post-enactment review of Community Service Punishment Law (CSPL) 2016; assessed its successes since November 29, 2016 when it came into force, the challenges, noticeable gaps in the law during implementation and other issues that needed to be addressed against the background of the new Nigerian Correctional Service Act 2019 (NCSA 2019) which came into force earlier in the year.

The stakeholders’ workshop was organised by the Justice, Development and Peace Commission (JDPC), Oyo state with the theme ‘Oyo State Community Service Punishment Law 2016 And the Nigerian Correctional Service Act (NCSA) 2019: Matters Arising’ is JDPC’s contribution towards exploring how to merge the provisions of the NCSA with the CSPL for effective service delivery in the justice sector.

The guest speaker at the workshop, the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice in Oyo State, Professor Oyelowo Oyewo, stated that the CSPL and the NCSA are landmark enactments in the area of criminal justice administration and treatment of offenders, adding that good laws alone do not transform any society and efforts must be spared to constantly remind stakeholders of the need for full, sustained, and effective implementation of laws.

“For the sake of emphasis, JDPC, by this workshop, is reminding all stakeholders, especially the state actors, that we must be alive to our respective obligations and roles under these laws. The two laws (i.e. CSPL 2016 and NCSA 2019) are no doubt reformative paradigm shifts against the background of the hitherto laws, and if properly implemented will serve as potent tools of criminal justice administration and treatment of offenders.

Custodial sentence has proved over time to be inherently inadequate to deter commission of crimes, reform rehabilitate and reintegrate offenders and deliver a crime-free society to us. Upon this realization, most advanced countries, if not all, have long embraced and integrated the option of non-custodial sentencing alternatives alongside custodial correctional treatment of offenders. What such nations do is to apply the two models simultaneously depending on the nature of crime an offender commits and the age of such offender, among other considerations,” he stated.

Prof. Oyewo explained further that the two laws seek to orientate the Criminal Justice System towards restorative justice, rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders back into the society, adding that community service is a form of restorative justice where the offender makes compensation for offences committed which enables non-serious offenders to be sentenced to non-custodial punishment rather than imprisonment.

He concluded that without serious commitment to full implementation of the laws, there is no way their potential effect and impact on decongesting prisons will be achieved.

Also speaking, the Deputy Chief Registrar 1, Probate and Community Service in the Oyo State Judiciary, Mrs O.A. Ogunrin, stated that though a lot has been done already, if stakeholders work together, they can achieve greater success, adding that  establishment and implementation of community service as a sentencing option has ameliorated the vicious cycle of prison decongestion.

According to her, the challenges faced by the scheme include lack of guarantor, lack of information technology tools, staff, transportation, office space and funding. “There is no provision for funding for the scheme and all we have achieved so far is due to the magnanimity of the Chief Judge, Justice M.L. Abimbola and the JDPC team. We need more funds for tools; imprest for transportation for community service offices to enable them to monitor offenders; buy computers, buildings and equipment as well as capacity building for staff,” she explained.

She stated further that part of the purview of the community service is to provide life skills for offenders that successfully serve out their terms by offering them opportunity to get vocational training that can provide them with a source of income.

The Programme Officer, Community Service Programme of JPDC, O.V. Oladoyinbo, stated that between January till November 2019, 195 offenders of minor offences have been sentenced to community service in Oyo state, adding that “the scheme is gaining popularity in the administration of criminal justice in the state and government agencies are beginning to utilize the provisions of the community service punishment.

Oladoyinbo explained that the community service punishment initiative of the JDPC, Ibadan was birthed out of a need for radical solutions to the challenges of prison congestion and its attendant problems within Oyo State and also to tackle the issue of lack of viable non-custodial alternatives to imprisonment.

According to her, the programme is focused on the reduction of prison population by advocating and ensuring that offenders of minor  and petty crimes are not sentenced to prison custody by promoting community service  punishment as a form of non-custodial sentencing.

“The commission took it upon herself to engage in vigorous legislative advocacy and lobby which championed the enactment of the Community Service Punishment Law 2016. This success story necessitated the current implementation phase of the project which is the monitoring of the community service scheme,” she said.

The stakeholders agreed that innovative results have been achieved in the course of implementing the scheme, leading to reduction of influx of minor offenders into prison custody but asked that stakeholders continue to lend support to ensure continuous success of the scheme.

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