Mr Ndubuisi Ogbodo, Controller of Prisons, Enugu State Command, has expressed concern over the high number of inmates in the facility which had tripled its capacity.
Ogbodo spoke on Thursday in Enugu during the presentation of a baseline report on Decriminalisation and Declassification of Petty Offences organised by Prisoners’ Rehabilitation and Welfare Action (PRAWA).
The controller said it was disheartening that the facility with a capacity of 648 inmates now has 2,024 inmates.
He said that the situation had made it impossible to classify the inmates.
The controller, however, said that with proper classification of petty offences, cases of congestion which had become the hallmark of Nigerian prisons would be addressed.
Ogbodo said that the situation in prison facilities had made it necessary for the government to come up with alternative means of addressing certain levels of wrongdoings in society.
He said that petty offences should be made to attract lesser sanctions, including community service.
“Petty offences should be classified and defaulters should be put under community service so that they are not mixed with hardened criminals in jail,” he said.
In a presentation, Deputy Director of PRAWA, Mrs Ogechu Ogu, said that government should be seen as not paying lip service to the burning issue of prisons reforms.
Ogu said that it was sad that prisons in the country were getting congested at a time the country was talking about reforms in the sector.
She said it was necessary for the government to remove the punitive aspect of imprisonment and highlight the correctional aspect.
She said that criminalising petty offences and meting out inhuman acts on offenders was against Article 45 (1b) of the African Charter which Nigeria signed up for.
Ogu said that government should rather address the circumstances that led to such offences.
The deputy director said that instead of seeking redress in a civil court, law enforcers would rather prefer to criminalise such offences as loitering, prostitution, failure to pay debts and what they called ‘being a vagabond’.
“We are calling on the state government to join in the campaign to remove the current punishments that come with petty offences.
“Let us resort to non-custodial measures. If not we will be creating more bitter persons that will make the society worst for us,” Ogu said.
The Executive Director of PRAWA, Mrs Uju Agomoh, said that the project, being driven by the organisation and Open Society Initiative of West Africa (OSIWA), was a milestone in criminal justice administration.
Agomoh said that the baseline report was for the participants and other collaborators to appreciate the situation that had necessitated the implementation of the project in the state.
She said that it was gratifying that the state government was doing much in the justice sector, adding that the justice reform team in the state needed to take notice of the decriminalisation and declassification of petty offences project.
“We cannot continue to criminalise poverty in this country,” Agomoh said.
The Abia Coordinator of National Human Rights Commission, Mrs Uche Nwokocha, said it had become imperative to have sentencing and bail guidelines in the country.
Nwokocha said that a situation where sentencing and bail conditions were at the discretion of the courts would make the process suspicious.