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Prisons decongestion: CP urges police to limit judicial prosecution of petty offenders

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By Chinedu Adonu

ENUGU – COMPTROLLER of Prisons, Enugu State Command, Mr Ndubuisi Ogbodo has bemoaned the level of overcrowding in prisons across the country saying that it was the biggest problem facing prison systems in Nigeria.

Nigerian Prisons Service

Ogbodo lamented that overcrowding of prisons compromises the basic functions of prisons such as provision and effective rehabilitation programmes, educational and vocational training, and recreational activities for inmates.

To cushion these negative effects, Ogbodo urged police and other law enforcement agencies to limit the number of petty offenders they send to court.

The Comptroller made the call during a 2-day training of law enforcement agencies on human right and treatment of petty offenders, organized by Prison’s Rehabilitation and Welfare Action, PRAWA in Enugu to decriminalize and declassify petty offences.

Representative of CP, CSP Benjamin Ugwu, who lamented that Enugu Prisons which has the capacity to shelter 800 inmates now has over 2000 inmates. He disclosed that overcrowding can also worsen mental health problems, increase rates of violence and cause self-harm among the inmates.

He urged security agencies to make special or alternative arrangements of settling some cases which are not supposed to be taken to a court or detain the offender in the prison or cell.

“Prison is meant for rehabilitation not for dumping of criminals. We found it very difficult to perform our function properly as a result of overcrowding. I wish the law enforcement agencies will use what they will learn here today to limit arrest of petty offenders to reduce overcrowding in the prisons and also stop suffering them.

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“We work with security agencies but our own is to receive culprits from them and try to rehabilitate them. It’s not every case that police need to take to court and detain the offender. They need to make another arrangements on how to settle the matter without charging them to court. Such cases like land issues which supposed to be settled at the community who knows well about the land, charging someone to court because he/she is owing little money like N5,000, and other petty offences.

“So, police should also find a way of settling cases involving under age below 18 years without bringing them to prison. Bringing them to prison will expose them to crimes because they will associate with hardened criminals in the prison thereby causing more violence and self harm to the society when they leave the prison”, he explained.

In a welcome address, the Director of PRAWA, Enugu state branch, Barr, Chioma Ogbo who commended the law enforcement agencies for participating in the ongoing training on human right, charged them to ensure the intervention would be sustained and utilised to achieve goals and purpose of the training.

Ogbo stated that the purpose of the training was to improve awareness on the impact of excessive custodial sentences as it relates to petty offences including applying standards and principles of human rights in protecting the poor and promoting equality and fairness to decriminalize and declassify petty offences in Nigeria.

She disclosed that OSIWA funded the decriminalization and declassification of petty offences in 21 African country and implemented by PRAWA to ensure that such law do not target persons based on their social origin, social status or fortune.

“Today we are here to embark on a 2 day capacity building and technical support to law enforcement agents on human rights and treatment of petty offenders and we hope that this intervention will be sustained and utilised to achieve the goals and purpose of the principles on the decriminalization and declassification of petty offences.

“It is in a bid to address the above that this OSIWA funded project which is implemented by Prisoners Rehabilitation and Welfare Action, PRAWA, is working with relevant stakeholders to see to the decriminalization and declassification of petty offences in Nigeria”, she said.

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