The Prisoners’ Rehabilitation and Welfare Action (PRAWA), a Non-governmental Organisation, has urged the media to stand-up against the criminalisation of petty offences, which affect the poor more than any other group.
The Head, Enugu Office of PRAWA, Mrs Chioma Anuna, made the call during a Media Capacity Building Workshop on Decriminalisation and Declassification of Petty Offences in Nigeria for journalists in Enugu on Wednesday.
Anuna said that criminalisation of petty offences, such as prostitution, common nuisance, alms begging, street trading and environmental offences, by state governments and law enforcement agencies had continued to breed and deepen poverty among the poor and vulnerable.
She said: “In this regard, laws that criminalise petty offences have the effect of punishing, segregating, controlling and undermining the dignity of persons on the basis of their socio-economic status.
“By restricting the ability of individuals to engage in life-sustaining activities, particularly for those living in poverty, petty offences infringe on the autonomy of persons, further degrading their right to human dignity.
“The enforcement of these laws also perpetuate the stigmatisation of poverty by mandating a criminal justice response to what are essentially socio-economic issues.
“In this regard, the criminalisation of petty offences reinforces discriminatory attitudes against marginalised persons especially the poor and vulnerable.
“The criminalisation of petty offences contributes to discrimination and marginalisation by criminalising poverty, homelessness and unemployment. This development had an impact on the poorest and most marginalised persons in our communities.’’
She noted that there was a need 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.
Speaking, Mr Monday Emeka, Public Relations Officer of Nigerian Correctional Service, Enugu State Command, said that the new Correctional Service Act signed by President Muhammadu Buhari clearly spelt out need to have non-custodian programmes.
Emeka said: “Law enforcement agencies and the general public should help us know that it is not every petty or minor offence that requires that the offender be put in custodian centres (prisons).
“There should be alternatives for handling petty issues especially going with the cost implication of keeping a person in correctional custody to the government, family members, friends and even the individuals involved especially when he or she is poor.’’
Highlights of the workshop were open discussion and group work as well as the formation of media network to checkmate issues of criminalisation of petty offences within Enugu State and its environs.
Journalists from print and electronic media as well as online media attended the workshop.