TheLagosState PrisonCommandhas announced that it has begun a multilateral approach to decongest the prisons of awaiting trial inmates.
The state Controller of Prisons, Mrs. Catherine Ononye, stated this during a skills exhibitionprogramme and tour of the Kirikiri Medium Prison, on Wednesday.
Among other measures, Ononye said the prisonservice had recently inaugurated a legal department to act on behalf of the thousands of inmates awaiting trial in the prisons.
For instance, out of 2,530 inmates in the Kirikiri Medium Prison, only 157 have been convicted while the others are still awaiting trial, Saturday PUNCH observed at the prison.
Ononye said, “The legal department is made up of lawyers within the system whose job is to make a comprehensive list of awaiting trial inmates and then meet with the relevant authorities who are supposed to act on them – magistrate court, high court or the Director of Public Prosecutions – to speed up the trial of these cases.”
She said the command encouraged individuals, philanthropists and lawyers, who do pro bono jobs, to visit the prison and assist some of the inmates affected by the country’s slow judicial process.
She said, “The chief justice also comes to visit and when she comes, she reviews their cases and releases those she feels shouldn’t be here. We want those in prison to be those who should be rightly in prison, and those are the ones who have been convicted because anyone who is not yet convicted is presumed innocent.”
She identified stigma as another major problem confronting inmates when they leave the prison, adding that prison officials were also affected.
She said, “Some families are even ostracised because a family member went to jail. When someone has gone to jail and served his or her sentence, we should have the heart to forgive because if we don’t encourage them back to the society, the society will be the worst for it.
“They will be angry with the society for rejecting them and will go back to criminals, who will accept them. It’s the society that hardens inmates; we give them hope, but they get out and the society rejects them; people stigmatise prison officials, let alone the inmates.”
The exhibition saw the display of various items made by the prison inmates such as shoes, clothing and beaded materials.