May 22, 2017

The Role Of Civil Society In Decongesting Prisons And Reducing Crimes In Lagos State


                      

It is not in doubt that Prisons in Lagos state are overcrowded and that the prison population increases on a daily, which presupposes that crimes are on the increase. As at March this year the number of inmates at the 1,700 capacity Kirikiri Medium prison was 3,051, as at 16th May of the same year, the number has increased to 3331. The female prison with a capacity of 211 had 273 inmates in March 2017 and as at 17th May of the same year, the number has increased to 325. If this trend continues, we are in for some serious problems.


I was asked in a recent interview on TVC about how the prisoners whose release we have secured are fairing, my answer was, "some are thriving, some are struggling and others are back in Prison". In August 2012 our NGO secured the release of eight  inmates, and I had cause to follow up on their families on how they are coping with life after Prison, the mother of one Godwin Johnson told me his son is back in Prison for taking part in an armed robbery. I was told that another one has gone ahead to join a criminal gang and no one knew where he was. In 2013 after securing the release of five inmates, I suspected one of them who told me he was going to Ibadan when he was heading towards a completely opposite direction. When I confronted him, he confessed he was linked up from prison with an armed robbery kingpin who had escaped from Ikeja High Court during his trial".

To be modest, over 40% of Prisoners I have come across are innocent of the charges levied against them by law enforcement agents. They were forced to sign statements they never made and content of which they were not aware of. The real Criminals most times never get to the Prison, they have either bought their way out of the station; hire very brilliant lawyers who know how to get their way out of very difficult situations; or got killed during operations or in SARS cells. A lot of the real Criminals roam the street.

The innocent ones who are unfortunate to spend time in prison get initiated in prison by hardened criminals and after a while they lose their innocence and get corrupted. They become hardened criminals upon release. The society also compound their problems by stigmatizing and ostracizing them, we tend to forget that we are the victims of the crimes they commit, be it stealing, robbery and in worst cases murder.

How do we ensure we don't have inmates who go back to crimes after release? How do we ensure we have inmates who would be gainfully employed and who would employ others after leaving Prison? What can we do as responsible citizens to ensure that Prisoners are reformed and not deformed? How do we ensure they are productive upon release and not liabilities or threats to our collective existence?

What is the role of civil society in decongesting prisons and reducing crimes in lagos state?

In answering this question, I will use some of the activities carried out by Prisoners’ Rights advocacy Initiative as an example of how to ensure decongestion of prisons and reduction of crimes.

PRAI has represented & defended a lot of inmates who can't afford to pay a lawyer and has secured the release of over 100 inmates and presently handling a handful of cases free of charge at various levels of courts across Nigeria.

Some of the approaches used in securing the release of the inmates and ensuring that prisons are decongested are:

·        Fundamental rights enforcement proceedings. (e.g Mamman Keita V. A.G Lagos and Anor- The court ordered the release of the applicant having spent 10 years in prison without trial and awarded 7 million naira damages against Lagos state and the police jointly and severally).

· Filing habeas corpus proceedings against the government ( e.g. Ariyo Osisanya & 105 Ors V. A.G Lagos & Anor – The court released 90 of the Applicants who had spent between 4 and 12 years in prison without trial).
·        Representing inmates at their trials (State of Lagos V. Saliu Abara- We filed a fundamental rights application for the defendant, the Lagos state government hurriedly charged. The case went to trial and defendant was discharged and acquitted).

·     Through administrative actions. (We took up the case of under aged boys and girls who were unjustly sentenced to 390 days in prison and kept with hardened criminals in Kirikiri Medium and Maximum Prison. Upon our insistence and after a joint visit 12 of them were released in October 2013 ).
·        Urging the Judiciary to adopt non-custodial sentencing where minor offences have been committed.
·        Using the press to pressure to achieve our just ideals.(Most cases we handle).
When we noticed that some of the inmates were returning to crime and getting back into prison, we had to start looking into rehabilitation and reintegration  seriously. We are presently using a multi-pronged approach to tackle recidivism. Some of the approaches we are adopting are:
1.     Skills Acquisition, Business Development and Value Reorientation Workshop. 321 inmates from the Ikoyi and Kirikiri Female Prison have benefitted from this programme where we taught them different skills such as Ankara Craft(bags, wallets, key holder, bow tie and jewellery) household products( Perfume, Air Freshener, Liquid Soap, Disinfectant, Hair Cream and Germicide). Some of them will be given support or employed by established entrepreneurs upon release.
2.     We are in partnership with ABROT Farms, a farm willing to employ ex-inmates and provide accommodation, feeding and salary. The farm also operates an out-goers scheme where ex-prisoners will be given a large expanse to farm on and provided seeds and technical supports. After harvest, the farm will purchase the products from the ex-prisoners.
3.     We are in partnership with IntelSpecs an ICT company that will be providing software training to inmates of the Kirikiri Female Prison. Computers have been ordered and very soon it will be deployed to the Prison for commencement of training. Hopefully, some of the participants will be able to get employment or start providing software solutions to clients upon release.
4.     We shall in partnership with leading entrepreneurs be conducting a skills upgrade program in the prison’s shoe making factory, tailoring factory and farms. So as to keep the prisoners up to speed with the latest trends in these fields.
All the above interventions are to ensure that when inmates come out of prison they stay away from crimes and stay out of prison for good.
How can civil society organizations also ensure that those who are fortunate not to have passed through the prison stay out crime? The Civil Society must continually engage the populace, particularly the youths in developmental activities such as sports, vocational skills training, academic programs and value-reorientation programs. For instance, PRAI has a sister organization, Q-MADI Taekwondo club where underprivileged street children are transformed into responsible champions. The Club has through its ‘Street to Podium’ initiative transformed the lives of vulnerable street children who were hitherto viewed as thugs and never do wells. The club has produced a commonwealth champion, numerous national and state champions. The club has amassed more than 250 medals in three years and many of the kids are now ‘stars’ in their schools and s are working very hard believing that one day they will conquer the world and make their country and community proud.
In conclusion our approaches to tackling the menace of prison congestion and increase in crime in Lagos state are advocacy, representation, rehabilitation and reintegration. We are employing partnerships at various levels for efficiency and wider coverage. We urge other civil societies to adopt similar multi-pronged approach in carrying out their activities.

Ahmed Adetola-Kazeem
Director, Prisoners’ Rights Advocacy Initiative (PRAI)
18th May 2017


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