The Chief Judge of Lagos State, Justice Opeyemi Oke, has said that more than 75 per cent of Nigerian prison population is made up of awaiting trial inmates.
She lamented that the awaiting trial inmates and petty offenders were usually lumped up with hardened criminals who eventually initiated them to a life of crime.
Justice Oke made the disclosure at the presentation of the two practice directions, the ACJL Practice Direction and Restorative Justice Practice Direction, on Tuesday.
The Chief Judge further disclosed that commencing from June 3, petty offences would no longer attract prison terms.
She stated that there would also be speedy dispensation of justice in criminal cases to improve the judicial system and build confidence in the judiciary.
Oke said, “Today in Nigeria we have seen countless cases where defendants are arrested for minor offenses such as burglary and wandering; they are locked up in our prisons for the flimsiest reasons to join the teeming population awaiting trial inmates.
“In fact, the awaiting trial inmates account for more than 75 percent of the inmates in our prisons today.
“They are in our prisons with hardened criminals and by the time they come out they have been initiated into a life of crime and are ready to spread terror, death, and destruction in their post-prison escapades.”
She disclosed that petty offenders would be directed to Practice Direction centres for non-custodial sentences.
This, she said, would include fines, community service orders and restitution orders.
According to her, “Lagos State has been at the vanguard in terms of criminal justice reform when it passed the ACJL in 2007, amended it in 2011. Other states followed suit, adopted and improved upon it.
“Now, Lagos State is going further with these new practice directions to realise the goal of expedited trials, improvement in the case disposal rates and hopefully, this will culminate in the decongestion of our prisons.”