It was reported on 31st March, 2020 that inmates of the Kaduna custodial center attempted a jail break due to fears that COVID -19 was in in their facility. This particular center has a holding capacity of 540 but currently holds 1200 – 1400 inmates at an average. Social distancing or self-isolation in an overcrowded environment is impossible as it is also the case in other custodial centers across the country. Reports further stated that in other to curb the unrest, arms where fired at inmates which led to injury of two. This is a flagrant human rights violation that could have been avoided if the government has been more proactive.
We are fighting a common enemy of which only few nations of the world are exempted for now. In other to completely combat the coronavirus, protection of the lives of vulnerable populations must be prioritized. The unsanitary conditions of our congested facilities, the non-existence of health care and the absence of specialized hands in prison would lead to fatal consequences. Faith based organizations, NGOS and individuals who support the welfare of inmates have been restricted from visits and major cities are on lockdown. This means malnutrition among inmates would be at an increase making them less immune to the virus infection.
Furthermore, the risk of the virus been brought into the centers by staff who are daily commuting from the prisons to their communities is as high as a staff contracting it and spreading it in their communities especially as correctional staff offer essential services and thus are not affected by any lockdown. Eventually, we would all suffer the consequences of a further delay in decongestion.
We hereby urge the presidency and the governors of all states to leverage on their powers under S.175 of the 1999 Constitution to decongest our prisons now. We recommend that the following set of inmates be released as releasing them would not lead to a surge in criminal activity or fuel social unrest at this time.Inmates over the age of 65 who have served at least one-third of their sentence.
- Inmates over the age of 55 with underlying health conditions.
- Minor offenders with a sentence of less than three years.
- Minor offenders serving terms with an option of fine.
- All pregnant women awaiting trial should be granted bail with conditions that will ensure their attendance at trial when court sessions resumes.
We further recommend that part of the funds donated towards combating the COVID-19 should be directed towards the swift implementation of these measures and the measures spelled out in the Nigerian Correctional Service Strategic Preparedness Plan.
These measures could spare thousands of hospitalizations, relieve pressure on our nation’s already strained health system and, most importantly, save lives. The cost of decongestion far outweighs the cost of a jail break or a COVID-19 Outbreak. We urge the government to recognize the urgency at hand and take immediate action.
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