• NCoS: What is in a name change?

    Ncos what is in a name change - nigeria newspapers online
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    NCoS: What is in a name change?


    A few years after a name-change from the Nigerian Prisons Service to the Nigerian Correctional Service, it is debatable whether the crucial mandates of the NCoS to seclude and reform criminals before returning them to society are being realised. Therefore, apart from the name change, the Federal Government should take pivotal steps to reform the NCoS.

    Senate President, Godswill Akpabio drew the attention of the lawmakers to the “deceitful” change of name at plenary on Tuesday during the consideration to change the name of another public agency.

    Akpabio said, “Since the adoption of that name, we have had more jailbreaks.” Media reports put jailbreaks at 11 after the renaming. He argued that “laws are meant to punish and to correct. If by the time you are convicted and you are sent to prison, you are even meant to learn a skill and ethical reorientation and all that. It is not only when we specifically call it a correctional centre and yet we are not correcting anything.”

    His observation is the harsh reality of the prison system. The name-change of 2019 was not deep; it was only cosmetic.

    Before the Muhammadu Buhari administration applied the makeup, the facilities were congested and lacked adequate amenities. They still have not improved. First-time offenders, awaiting trial inmates, and hardened criminals were cramped into overcrowded cells.

    Without ample skill engagement, education, and nutrition, they were groomed to become sophisticated criminals waiting for the opportunities to form vicious gangs once they complete their sentences or escape during jailbreaks.

    A recent report reflected this. A suspect confessed that he formed a kidnapping gang with fellow inmates he met while he was in prison. The suspect, who was rearrested in March by the Rivers State Police Command, was first arrested for killing his uncle over a disagreement on a plot of land in 2012. He was remanded in prison for 11 years. Upon his release, he reconnected with three criminals and formed a kidnap-for-ransom gang in Port Harcourt.

    Most of the correctional centres were built in colonial times. So, the current number of inmates in the cells supersede their capacity. The walls of the centre in Suleja, Niger State, collapsed in April during heavy rainfall. About 104 inmates exploited this to escape. The prison was built in 1914 to house 250 inmates but had over 499 inmates.

    The government’s assurances of new and well-equipped prisons are yet to get off the ground, except in the North-West.

    This overcrowding is compounded by the ATIs there. There are 80,507 inmates in the 244 custodial centres across the country. The convicted inmates are 25,033 and ATIs are 55,474 or a 31/69 per cent ratio. The Enough is Enough charity says that apart from the strain on the weak facilities, inmates are prone to disease, exposed to environmental hazards, and are fed at N750 per day, despite the food inflation of 40.01 per cent in the country.

    The UN states that imprisonment is meant to deprive the convicted criminal of his liberty, to reform and achieve social rehabilitation. It therefore advised that imprisonment should not include the ‘risk of physical or emotional abuse by staff or by other prisoners’ or ‘risk of serious illness or even death because of the physical condition or lack of proper care.’

    Elsewhere, prison reforms are dynamic. In Germany, the objective of the prison system is to correct, rather than punish. Most of the prisoners are mandated to engage in full-time work in 12 of the 16 German states.

    Nigeria’s policing and legal system need to be evaluated and rejigged to disrupt the high rate of arbitrary arrests and delayed legal processes. Issues of delayed trial, prosecution of cases, and complex bail system should be rectified to achieve a fair society.

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