In an effort to address the issue of prison overcrowding and promote reformation and rehabilitation, the Federal Government has commenced the release of 4,068 inmates across custodial centers nationwide.
The symbolic release ceremony was conducted by Dr. Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo, the Minister of Interior, at the Medium Security Custodial Centre in Kuje, Abuja.
Dr. Tunji-Ojo expressed concern over the high number of inmates in custodial centers, which stood at approximately 80,804 across 253 facilities as of November 17, 2023. The installed capacity of these centers falls short of accommodating this population, with fewer than 50,000 spaces available. The minister called for reforms in the criminal justice system to expedite the dispensation of justice, as a significant number of inmates are still awaiting trial.
The Medium Security Custodial Centre in Kuje, for instance, currently holds 730 inmates despite having an installed capacity of 560. Out of these 730 inmates, 565 are awaiting trial. This overcrowding situation necessitated the initiative to alleviate the strain on custodial centers and enhance their reformatory functions.
The release primarily targeted indigent inmates who were unable to pay fines and have been languishing in custody. Philanthropic individuals, groups, and corporate bodies contributed a total of N585 million to facilitate their release. In addition to their freedom, the beneficiaries also received stipends to support their reintegration into society.
Dr. Tunji-Ojo urged the released inmates to view this opportunity as a second chance and to refrain from criminal activities, emphasizing the need for collective efforts to build a great nation. He highlighted that the government provided the inmates with necessary training to equip them with functional skills, civic responsibilities, and strategies to avoid reoffending.
The minister reiterated the government’s commitment to the welfare of inmates and pledged to transform custodial and non-custodial facilities to meet international human rights standards. He acknowledged the contributions of the Nigerian Correctional Service (NCoS) in safeguarding society and assured support for the service in enhancing staff and inmates’ welfare.
Dr. Tunji-Ojo cautioned against stigmatizing the released inmates and called on the larger community to accept them with open arms, as stigmatization could potentially lead them back to criminal behavior. He encouraged the beneficiaries to abide by the instructions and training they received during their custody and become positive ambassadors in their communities.
The Controller General of Corrections, Haliru Nababa, commended the Minister of Interior for his commitment to ongoing reforms in the paramilitary services. He acknowledged that overcrowding has been a persistent challenge in custodial centers and expressed gratitude for the government’s initiative, which will contribute significantly to decongestion. Nababa highlighted the skills acquired by the inmates during their time in custody, such as plumbing, construction, soap-making, artwork, carpentry, fishery, poultry, and tailoring, which will facilitate their successful reintegration into society.
One of the beneficiaries, Sunday from Anambra State, expressed gratitude to the Minister of Interior for securing their release, promising that they would not return to a life of crime. Sunday’s sentiments were echoed by other inmates, who expressed their happiness and appreciation for the opportunity to rebuild their lives.