By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA — The Federal Government, on Tuesday, said it has released a total of 7, 813 inmates from various Correctional Centers since the outbreak of Coronavirus in the country.
The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN, who made the disclosure at a press conference in Abuja, said FG took the decision so as to curb the spread of the virus among inmates.
Malami said the Federal Executive Council had earlier in 2017, passed a resolution that directed the Federal Ministry of Justice to put in place measures to fast track the decongestion of Correctional Centres nationwide.
He said as a result of the resolution, a Presidential Committee on Correctional Service Reform and Decongestion was inaugurated in October 2017.
Highlighting some achievements of the Presidential Committee headed by the Chief Judge of the Federal Capital Territory, Justice Ishaq Bello, since it was inaugurated, the AGF, said it brought modalities that were used to identify the inmates that were freed due to the rampaging Coronavirus.
The AGF said the Committee visited and appraised about 39 prisons in 18 states, especially cases of awaiting trial inmates he said accounted for above 70% of the population of custodial centres.
“The Committee also conducts special review of cases of inmates awaiting trial for upwards of five (5) years, inmates eligible for Prerogative of Mercy and looks into cases of condemned convicts on death row for over ten (10) years, with the view to getting relevant authorities to commute the sentences to life imprisonment and peculiar cases.
“A total number of 7,813 have been so far released during these visits through advocacy overtures to relevant authorities and in collaboration with other stakeholders, via general review of peculiar cases and via payment of fines for convicts for minor offences with the option of fine who are unable to pay the fines.
“These payments were made possible through the financial assistance of the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation, State Governments, NGOs and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs).
“In the course of these visits, the Committee also encountered a startling number of convicts who ought to be recommended as deserving consideration for the grant of Presidential Pardon”.
Malami said the list of such inmates had since been complied and forwarded for consideration.
On his part, Chairman of the Presidential Committee, Justice Bello, said FG had initiated the upgrading of libraries in various Custodial centres with the aim of aiding the re-orientation of inmates.
He said the Committee had after it reviewed cases of inmates eligible for Prerogative of Mercy and condemned convicts on death row for over 10 years, wrote letters of appeal to several governors to act on some special cases they encountered during the visits.
He said the governors were in the letters, urged to exercise their powers of clemency in deserving cases or commute to life sentence those condemned to death.
“I interact with the Medical officers in charge of the clinics during inspection usually with a view of detecting the critically ill inmates with life-threatening ailments who cannot access adequate treatment to be released or recommended for release.
“Inmates who are lucky to be released are extensively counselled and in most cases are given transportation stipends to enable them return to their families. Sometimes we have requested officers to get them home”, Justice Bello added.