Lagos State Controller of Prisons, Mr. Tunde Ladipo has said that the operations of mobile courts and Lagos State Environmental Task Force are creating challenges for the prison system in the state.
He said their activities are largely responsible for congestions in the prisons.
Speaking at the stakeholders’ forum held at Ikoyi Prison Monday, Mr. Ladipo noted that many detainees, including juveniles and cripples, are remanded in prison for petty offences such as breach of the peace, affray among others.
He noted that some of the offences for which most of the juveniles are charged, like “lack of visible means of livelihood” are not even in the statute books.
According to Ladipo, though it has been suggested that the courts deploy community service in managing petty offences especially, this has not been fully implemented, leading to congestion of prisons.
“The implication is that we are unable to discharge one of our primary duties, namely reform of convicted prisoners because facilities are overstretched by awaiting trial inmates”, he lamented.
He commended the Prisoners Rehabilitation and Welfare Action (PRAWA) for its prison reform interventions, describing its Executive Director, Dr. Uju Agomoh as “a senior advocate of the masses and the only prison officer who, as acknowledged by the Controller General of Prisons, does not wear uniform.”
The Prison Reform Project is a prison decongestion programme spearheaded by PRAWA in partnership with the Nigeria Prison Service and Legal Aid Council of Nigeria (LACON).
Stakeholders from LACON, State Criminal Investigation Department, Panti (Legal Department), pro bono lawyers and para-legals as well as heads of all the prison formations in Lagos attended the forum.
Ladipo urged PRAWA to extend its prison decongestion programme to other prisons in Lagos, including Kirikiri Medium and Maximum Security Prisons, noting that the prison population at Ikoyi Prison would have been unbearable save for the intervention of PRAWA and other stakeholders.
Responding to complaints by some participants, Ladipo warned prison officers against corrupt activities, noting that disciplinary measures had been taken against defaulting officers.
He commended the Lagos State Police Commissioner, Mr. Edgal Imohimi for improving transfer of case files by police to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) office for legal advice, adding, “the DPP has been very supportive.”
Civil rights lawyer and a pro bono participant in the Prison Reform Project (PRP), Mr. Emeka Nwadioke decried the handling of petty offenders such as street hawkers and destitutes by the task force, adding , “we must find better ways of managing this group of people than clamping them in prison. Criminalization of poverty is unacceptable.”
On her part, Dr. Agomoh emphasized the need to ensure that proof of service is henceforth provided for production warrants to avoid delays in criminal trials, adding that the prison service should devise a register for such warrants to enable tracking while courts should demand to cite such proofs.
She also recommended that the police should attach charge sheets to production warrants to avoid cases of detainees being held endlessly in prisons due to missing charge sheets, noting that the judiciary should also direct court registrars to transmit the charge sheets to the prisons, prosecution and defence counsel.
In tackling the incidence of juvenile suspects in prisons, Agomoh suggested better synergy between the key agencies, adding that aside from prosecuting agencies alerting the juvenile institutions on impending court cases, such institutions should also have their officers in court to take juvenile suspects into custody.
Information on all the prison facilities in Lagos state revealed that they are all congested.
Of the 2,919 inmates in Ikoyi Prison, only 533 inmates are convicts while 2, 386 others are awaiting trial inmates. Also, of the 1, 627 inmates at Kirikiri Maximum Prison, over 1, 000 are awaiting trial inmates while the Kirikiri Medium Security Prison with a lock-up capacity of 1, 700 is holding 3, 602 inmates.