WHAT do we want to do with our prisons? Better still, what do we intend to do with our prisoners? Prisons are not a favourite subject of many. Prisoners are outcasts, considered worse than the scum of society.
Few are interested in what got them into jail. We rarely care about rehabilitating them, or accepting that they can make useful contributions to society.
Shocks at the state of our prisons reflect the depth of a neglect worsened by the fact that we do not expect prisons to count among matters of national importance. It is a further indication of our poor understanding that prisons reform or deform those who pass through them.
Yearly, the prisons are in the news when a Chief Judge or Governor visits and releases some who had been detained for too long. It is on record that about 80 per cent of our prison population is awaiting trial mates. The over-crowding, diseases, malnourishment of inmates, are issues that leave those unfamiliar with our prisons in tears. Degradation of people in our prisons is heart rendering. The authorities adequately address them with words.
The visiting VIP weeps as he renders contrition at the state of the prisons. With carefully chosen words, he sketches the sub-human conditions in the prison. Like the rest of us, he wonders how human beings survive in those settings. He earns his headlines and forgets promises he made to the prisoners.
Other times the prisons are in the news are during jailbreaks. Last year, criminals freed 175 inmates from Akure Prisons. There had been jailbreaks in Ibadan, Warri, Bauchi, Kano, Abuja (at the anti-robbery detention centre), and Port Harcourt.
A jailbreak is a high point of criminality. Its consequences depend on the criminals involved and their motives. What all these point at is that the authorities have failed to realise the importance of securing convicts while they serve their sentences. There is still a high tendency of dismissing the prison, from the crowded agenda of governments.
Prisons are at the lowest rungs for budgetary allocations. As we fail to pay attention to the prisons, we should not be surprised that prisoners are neglected.
When will we improve the welfare of prisoners? Medical facilities, workshops, schools, living conditions, in prisons, are unfit for human beings.
It is convenient to forget that prisoners are human beings. The conditions of the prisons should be treated as emergency. The prisons should not be grounds for breeding criminals. As we all wonder about the state of our prisoners, we forget that a society that does not treat its people as humans cannot change its attitude to them because they are in prison.