As part of efforts to put an end to prison congestion and reduce the burden on facilities at custodial centres by using community service as an alternative to imprisonment, the Oyo State judiciary sentenced 413 people found guilty of minor offences to community service punishment instead of custodial sentences on simple offences between the year 2019 and 2020.
This was revealed during a feedback and information exchange meeting on community service with magistrates and presidents of Grade A customary courts in Oyo State which held at the conference room of the state judiciary at High Court Complex, Ring Road, Ibadan.
It was revealed during the programme organised by the Justice Development and Peace Commission (JPDC), that in 2018, 43 magistrates and presidents of Grade A customary courts were in the community service system and 30 per cent of the magistrates and presidents applied Community Service Punishment (CSP) instead of custodial sentences on simple offences in Oyo State while 70 per cent did not apply CSP.
Speaking on behalf of JPDC, Tolu Fayemi, explained further that the figure however increased in 2019 with more magistrates applying practice direction on community service in lieu of prison sentence for minor offences, adding that, “in year 2019, 80 per cent of magistrates applied CSP while 20 per cent of the magistrates under the scheme did not CSP.
“A comparison between years 2018 and 2019 indicates that there is an increase in the number of magistrates that applied CSP. This reduces the number of magistrates and presidents who did not apply community service and indicates that more magistrates are beginning to apply community service as an alternative form of punishment as against the previous practice of incarceration.
It was also revealed that the challenges of sentencing and ensuring punishment is served will now be easy under the scheme with the introduction of the Correctional Service officials into the scheme as it will facilitate monitoring, contact verification and also reinforce the sense of punishment.
Speaking on the development, Odewumi Kayode, the head of non custodial service of the Nigeria Correctional Service, Oyo Centre stated that the enactment of the Correctional Act 2019 empowers the agency to be involved in non custodial punishment in addition to the custodial service which was its primary assignment before now, reiterating the willingness of the correctional service to add to the smooth running of the system.
Speaking on challenges encountered in non custodial sentencing, magistrates explained that their major challenge they encounter in executing community service is the unavailability of guarantors or sureties for people sentenced which makes it difficult to release them or make them go through the required hours of sentencing.
They also highlighted the lack of holding facility for people serving more than a day’s punishment and the fact that prisons are not admitting people because of the COVID-19 pandemic and lack of security, emphasising that after the EndSARS protest, people now find it normal to attack officers and this has made it difficult for officers to take convicts of community service into the streets to serve punishment.
Another factor highlighted was the issue of logistics that poses an hindrance to taking convicts out for punishment and it was suggested that for the scheme to be effective, there must be a dedicated budget to cater for logistics while it was also revealed that work is ongoing to put in place a halfway house where people can stay while serving punishment if they do not have guarantors.
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