Lawyer advocates legal framework to end prison congestion

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A Legal Practitioner, Mr Douglas Ogbangwa, on Tuesday called for a legal or structural framework that would end prison congestion in order to ensure actual correctional service.

Ogbangwa, a Benin-based lawyer, made the call in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) against the backdrop of the recent change in the nomenclature of the Nigeria Prisons Service to Nigerian Correctional Service.

He said that this was the only way to ensure that the change of name of the Nigeria Prisons Service to Nigerian Correctional Service made a difference.

NAN reports that President Muhammadu Buhari had in August signed the Nigerian Correctional Service Act 2019 into law, which changed the name of the Prison Service to Nigerian Correctional Service.

The bill for the Act was passed by the 8th National Assembly.

“The Nigerian Correctional Centres are perhaps the most congested in the world,’’ Ogbangwa said.

He said that the congestion stemmed from the punitive measures in place in the criminal justice system.

He decried the system’s penchant for pushing people to correctional facilities (prisons) under avoidable circumstances.

The legal practitioner said to decongest the prisons, an end must be placed to the culture of Nigerian judicial and presiding officers denying bail in bailable offences or imposing obnoxious and strenuous bail conditions.

He said that bail should be granted if so provided by law, saying that conditions must not be incongruous with the alleged crime.

“To ensure symmetry in granting of bail, guidelines should be issued to judges and presiding officers to stop the abuse of power.

“Judges and Magistrates should wait to sign the bond if the bail conditions are  met in one day.

“The culture of `the Magistrate wants to leave’ must stop. The signing of the bail bond or reproduction warrant is not a favour, it is a duty,’’ the legal practitioner said.

He called on the government to adopt the non-custodial correctional template to ensure that not everyone convicted goes to correctional facilities.

According to him, we should have suspended sentences, community service and other non-custodial sentencing that meet international best practices.

Ogbangwa called for the promulgation of a law writing off fines of prison inmates.

“No matter how much it may be, when the inmate has served half of the prison term, the fine should be written off to decongest the prisons.

“The parole system should also be adopted to allow persons with good behaviour, who have recompensed their wrongdoing to be released.

“We should also adopt the suspended sentences measure by which though, a defendant is convicted, his sentence can only start counting over his failure to carry out some remedial, compensatory and/or restitution actions.

“Failure in carrying out these actions, then his sentence is activated. Before doing so, he may be released to guarantors/sureties who must sign recognisance for him.

“With these measures, prison congestion is likely to be a thing of the past,’’ Ogbangwa said. (NAN)

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