By Sunday Adaji Esq
One fact about prisoners is that one after the other, virtually all of them will be out of prison and back into the society, breathing the air of freedom. What is therefore worthy of consideration is the life they live in prison and the life they will be living when they return to the society.
As it were, prisons are built not just to incarcerate and punish criminals but to reform them. “Reform” here implies putting facilities in place which will help to bring out the best in the prisoners and make them responsible citizens, so that instead of becoming hardened criminals; they become law abiding citizens. This way, the society becomes the better for it.
Although prisons are meant to reform prisoners, the ones in Nigeria rarely serve this function. Experience has shown that prisoners return from prisons in Nigeria to become hardened criminals. In this country, available statistics point to the fact that many prisoners who have completed their prison terms go back to the same acts of criminalities that took them to prison in the first place, and may even become worse than ever.
Perhaps, one of the reasons prisoners are hardly reformed is that the government has not put proper structures in place for the desired reformation and rehabilitation. Visits to our prisons will reveal that the conditions in them are deplorable. Apart from the fact that our prisons are congested, there are no adequate social amenities. There is poor ventilation, poor medical facilities and little or no sports facilities. The inadequacy or complete absence of these facilities make life unbearable to prisoners and even defeat the whole essence of the exercise.
It is important we remind ourselves that prisoners have rights and are entitled to enjoy these rights even while in prison. In the United States and other civilized societies, prisoners enjoy their rights to education, to medical treatment, to conducive accommodation and to good ventilation. In such climes, prisoners come out of prisons to become better citizens, principally because of the quality of facilities in place. In the U.S, it is easy to recall the likes of great motivational blogger, Steve Pavlina and the former world heavy weight boxing champions, Sony Liston and Mike Tyson. These men were jailed at different times for some offences they committed and while in prison developed their talents that eventually made them become better American citizens. If these were Nigerians and kept in Nigerian prisons, they would have ended up as hardened criminals.
Bettering the Lots of Prisoners in Nigeria
Within every human being is the capacity to be good and to be better. The first step to bringing the best out of prisoners and making them responsible citizens is to put in place frameworks, structures and facilities required for their reformation and rehabilitation. If all a prisoners is required to do is to serve his prison terms, then, we are far from making him a better citizen. The secret to reforming and rehabilitating prisoners is to invest in them. And to do this, we must stop seeing them as criminals who are not fit to live in society; and start seeing them as citizens who need reorientation and reformation. It is when we start doing this that we will be prepared to put in place frameworks and facilities that will enable them become better citizens. It is interesting to note that a Bill on prison reforms is already before the current National Assembly, waiting to be passed into law. When and if passed, the law will go a long way to solving most of the problems bedeviling this institution.
In the meantime, for any reforms to achieve tangible results, adequate attention must be paid to the issues below:
Provision of Adequate Social Amenities in Prisons
Currently, only few prisons in Nigeria can boast of any medical, housing and sports facilities. And even where these are available, they are in a state of comatose. If we are going to bring hope to prisoners, we must be ready to make their welfare and future a priority. Prisoners are human beings and not animals. Even animals have rights and in civilized societies, the rights being respected and enforced. It is instructive that under our Criminal and Penal Codes, it is an offence to maltreat animals, much more human beings. Government should take a cue from international best practices all over the world and do something urgent on the state of our prisons.
Provision of Educational and Training Facilities in Prisons
It is pathetic and embarrassing that only few Nigerian prisons (Lagos, Onitsha and Jos) have educational facilities for prisoners. Education is, perhaps, the greatest investment we can make on the prisoners. If schools are built in prisons and prisoners are trained, their capacity to become better citizens is enhanced and the society at large will be better for it.
The recent report that 35 inmates in Jos prison would be participating in the November/December 2018 WASSCE (West African Senior School Certificate of Education) examinations having been sponsored by the National Industrial Training Fund came as a big relief. More heart gladdening is also the disclosure that the prison in Onitsha has vocational training facilities for prisoners. It is hoped that these developments will be replicated in the other prisons in Nigeria so that inmates can start benefitting immensely from them.