In December 2021, I read in the news about an 18-year-old boy, who had been arrested on three occasions for traffic robbery. The last arrest, in the Ketu area of Lagos State, was the third time. When he was released from the Nigeria Correctional Service, a few weeks after his previous arrest by the Lagos State Rapid Response Squad, he resumed traffic robbery. Despite being convicted and sentenced to three-month imprisonment, he was not deterred. When the teenager was arrested the third time, he confessed that he went into robbery again to offset the debt he incurred after his release months ago. One wonders if the young boy’s reason for returning to crime justifies his action. Similarly, a few days ago, men of the RRS arrested six suspected robbers for allegedly dispossessing accident victims of their belongings around the Ojodu-Berger area on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. Four of the arrested suspects were said to be ex-convicts. Would it be said that these ex-convicts have become brutally insensitive and unrepentant?
The truth is, prison walls are not only meant to only deprive inmates of their freedom but not to refine them. Nigerian prison has been renamed Correctional Centre and, as the name suggests, it should bring a change in the life of anyone, who has ever been convicted and incarcerated there, after freedom. It, however, hasn’t lived up to its expectations after rebranding. There should be a reform in the activities of NCoS, not just in the name. There ought to be some lasting lessons an ex-convict learns as a result of corrective measures put in place by the custodian centres.
It’s been over two years that the Nigeria Prison Service was changed to Nigeria Correctional Service, yet nothing really has changed about their modus operandi. The system of operation of NCoS still remains the same and the desired transformation many expected is yet to manifest, with overcrowded prison facilities, underfeeding, a large number of inmates awaiting trials among many other challenges which have been an albatross for decades.
I strongly believe that apart from confining a convict to a place as punishment for his act, one other important reason why a prison exists is to allow self-rumination during lone moments. If after regaining his freedom on completion of prison terms or by virtue of pardon from a constituted authority, the ex-convict fails to turn a new leave, then the correctional institution has had no impact on him.
An offender, released after satisfying the due process as specified by law, is not expected to return for the same or any other offence again if he is well corrected during his stay. The NCoS is saddled with the responsibility of reintegrating a pardoned or freed offender into society for a better life and living. Rebranding of the NPS to NCoS should include a commensurate change in their mandates. The objectives of NCoS must be made public for the assessment and evaluation of correctional officers and their custodees.
In Nigeria, history is rich with records of jailbreaks in time past with some escapees being rearrested and others still at large. Most jailbreaks — successful or foiled — are usually characterised by the infliction of injuries on inmates or wardens, death and loss of property. If these prisoners, who are under correction, have been well-refined, then they won’t break-free illegally even when the opportunity pops up. I salute the courage of some prison escapees, who gladly and of their free will, turned themselves in at police stations and correctional facilities. It’s a reflection of the change of heart and the willingness to allow the law to take its course for eventual true freedom.
The Ministry of Interior must do more to ensure that correctional facilities and institutions nationwide are well-equipped with security apparatus to forestall any jailbreak that may spring up from within and also prevent attack by any external arrangement. More important is the need to put in place various programs that will positively alter and correctively reconfigure the attitude of those holding convicts in their custody. Services of counsellors and emotional intelligence experts must be engaged to regularly hold sessions with these prisoners.
The roles and responsibilities of Nigerian correctional institutions should stretch beyond the confinement of the prison yard. Their duties should extend to post-prison life of any convict, who once served terms or stayed for any period while awaiting trial before discharge and acquittal. Let me also state clearly here that, while most people refer to correctional centre inmates as prisoners, not everyone remanded there is guilty of the offence; many are innocent but have become victims of circumstance. Others are awaiting trial. So, in addressing the challenges of the occupants of these centres, we must be cautious we do not cast aspersions and stigma on them.
Many have abandoned and condemned ex-convicts to live lonely and die after they leave the correctional centre because it is assumed that they are no longer of use to themselves and society. They tag and label them as ‘never-do-well.’ This ought not to be so as it may damage their mentality, psyche and self-esteem.
If our correctional centres nationwide make significant impacts in the lives of ex-convicts, then their thinking faculties would be refined, not damaged. For a full rehabilitation to be completed in the life of anyone who once went through a correctional custody, the and other concerned authorities must provide an avenue or an enabling environment for an ex-convict not just to live again, but to live well and responsibly.
- Kayode Ojewale of the Public Affairs and Enlightenment Department of LASTMA, writes via [email protected]
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