INMATES having babies in prison is a global phenomenon defying solutions. Authorities of Port Harcourt Prisons are denying warders were responsible for the pregnancies. In the United States, where some prison officials have been convicted for their roles in sexual abuse of prisoners, more than 25 per cent of inmates get pregnant while serving their term.
Arguments of an official of Port Harcourt Prisons, that in all cases the women arrived pregnant, are unattainable. They are too dumbfounding that they leave no room for important prison reforms. What can be done about pregnant prisoners? How can general prison conditions be improved? Do we ever worry that children born in prison without adequate care could become criminals?
More concern in other places centre on better treatment for children born in prison. There are no easy solutions. Even in USA where six States - California, Connecticut, Mississippi, New Mexico, New York and Washington – permit “conjugal visits” to aid family bonding, the visits have partly been blamed for the pregnancies, there are no firm plans for the children. Do we punish children too for their mothers’ offences?
Current conditions in Nigerian prisons are deplorable. The food is poor; the quantity is not enough for healthy living, worse for pregnant inmates. The hygiene levels are abysmally low. It is almost unthinkable that children are born in these settings. Prisoners, most of them poor, cater for the children until relations take them, or they are put up for adoption. What is their future?
With the generally unacceptable conditions in which Nigerians live, it is easier to ignore prisoners and their plight. They are part of society. If the laws were a little more stringent, more Nigerians, the mighty moreso, could be in jail.
The point is validly made that prisoners – some of who are awaiting trial for years, and who may eventually be released for lack of evidence to prosecute them – have rights. The fact that nobody cares about their rights do not mean they do not exist.
The USA for years lived in denial of the abuses in its prisons. Women were shackled while giving birth, more than 1.5 million children were born in jail over 25 years, sexual abuses were nobody’s concern until some years back when the reforms began. Prison officers are being jailed for abuses; some prisons are building nurseries for the children.
We cannot address abuses in prisons without admitting them. There would be no seriousness without punishing offending officials and setting new standards for conduct. Fears of the truth would delay the reforms that fate of pregnant prisoners deserves. We have a major prison challenge in our hands, we cannot pretend otherwise.