Over time, public health emergencies such as the corona virus outbreak poses huge socio-economic burden on individuals, families and nations. Evidence shows that vulnerable populations especially people in shielded environments such as correctional facilities are disproportionately affected in multiple ways.
This is the case for correctional facilities in Nigeria, a country with 70% of its prison population awaiting trial with little or non existent healthcare systems behind bars, congested cells and inmates living in unsanitary conditions.
As an organisation, we are advocating for the decongestion of Nigeria’s custodial centres as a major step to fighting COVID 19 in prison. In addition, we launched the a COVID 19 ‘Emergency Welfare intervention for Prison Inmates’ This is to supplement the efforts of the government in catering for the prison population. This is of utmost importance at this moment considering that the religious organisations and NGOS who otherwise support the efforts of the government have been banned from prison visits.
We secured approval from the Comptroller of Prisons, Nasarawa state Command CP Felix to pilot the first phase of this project at the Keffi Custodial centre.
We call on the members of the public and organizations to join us as we take relief items to this very vulnerable population.
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
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.
Hope Behind Bars Africa is a Youth-led organization galvanizing for change in Nigeria’s criminal justice system using service delivery, data, technology adoption and evidence-based advocacy.