By Bukola Olasanmi
The Chairman Presidential Committee on Prison Reforms and Decongestion, Hon. Ishaq Bello has advocated clemency to inmates who managed to acquired additional academic qualifications while serving term in prison as well as get employment in any part of the country they choose to live so that they would not go back to crime out of joblessness.
The Committee Chairman who also doubles as the FCT High Court Chief Judge made the advocacy during the opening ceremony of a two-day retreat organised by Presidential Committee on Prison Reforms and Decongestion in collaboration with the Ondo State Government in Akure, Ondo State on 4th May, 2017.
Hon. Justice Bello’s statement was formed based on the Committee’s earlier visit to Lagos, Ogun and Ondo States prisons where some of the inmates despite the prison conditions, seized the opportunity for learning to acquire certificates from Literacy Class to Secondary and even Tertiary level.
The Committee Chairman full of concern with the future of the inmates, raised some questions, “What is the use of certificates acquired by these inmates when they are out of prison? A lot of you Judges and Magistrates may not see the problems”.
He foresaw that the convicts might encounter with the problem of processing entry forms into various establishment and organisations that might require some information that will negate them from getting the job once it is known that they are ex-convict.
He warned that where such convicts are blocked from getting employment, might revert back to crime with more sophisticated mind full of bitterness. To this effect, the Committee resolved to make a special recommendation and proposal for onward submission to the President and then to the State Governors to grant clemency to such persons.
The Chairman said,” it is expected that the Committee will take it up to the President that any inmate that acquire additional qualification in the prison should get clemency”.
The Presidential Committee and the Ogun State High Court Chief Judge released 28 inmates in Ibara Prison, Abeokuta, Ogun State.In Ondo State, the Committee jointly with the State government released 34 inmates in addition with 86 inmates that were earlier released by the State, totalling 120 inmates released from Medium Prison, Olokuta, Akure, Ondo State.
Justice Bello raised fundamental issue on some flaws in Court judgements, citing an example of Order for compensation where some Court sentenced an inmate with an option of fine of N1m that must be paid in addition of five years’ prison term. He said, “the fundamental issue is that you cannot sentence someone to eternity if he cannot afford to pay the option after having concluded his term in prison. A lot of people are held up in prison on grounds of Order for Compensation”. He continued,” there is no option but to ask the convict to go because there must be terminal date for sentencing”.
He explained that another reason for prison congestion is in the area of Holden charge when the application for remand is granted, there should be return date to court otherwise, people are held under the pretence for remand. He added that the Committee’s visit to various prisons revealed that a lot of situation where holders for remand were granted, no return date and people are held for for long under the pretence of holder’s remand. He called on all concerned to ensure redress of this situation. “The High Court Judge has the judicial powers to step up action to stop such practice”, he concluded.
He reminded participants that with Ondo State government’s adoption and implementation of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act(ACJA), it is expected that the state would get out of the box in order to address all the problems highlighted otherwise, nothing would be achieved
In his welcome address, the representative of the Solicitor General of the Federation and Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Justice, Mr. Dayo Apata, Esq., the director in the Ministry, Mr. Pius Oteh, said the Presidential Committee on Prison Reform and Decongestion was inaugurated by the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN on 31st October, 2017. This, he said is in pursuant to a resolution of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) to constitute the Committee for the purpose of information gathering across the entire country and among all relevant stakeholders in respect of the urgent need not only to decongest prisons in a sustainable manner but also to ensure achievement of a lasting reforms of prison systems and by extension to the criminal justice system.
“Part of the work of the Committee has been to go round various prison formation in the country to assess their physical infrastructures and also to gather inputs from the desk officers who are directly involved”, he said.
He explained that the retreat would help to find a way of abrogating views as much as possible both from personnel who are no longer actively in the system and as well as those are currently in service. “The outcome of from the retreat would form the report for the President’s attention”, he explained.
He thanked the Ondo State Government for making it possible for the retreat to hold even at a short notice.
The Deputy Governor of Ondo State, Hon. Barrister Agboola Ajayi who declared the retreat open, commended Federal Government initiatives towards decongestion of prisons. He called for the attention of the FG to look into the problems that contribute to prison congestion in the area where politicians are held for long before investigation. He said,” we must strengthen various institutions if prison decongestion must be done the way it should be. The conducive environment the legislation has also delivered, having adopted the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), I don’t believe that prisons should be congested”.
Representing the Executive Governor of Ondo State, His Excellency Oluwarotimi O. Akeredolu (SAN), Barr. Ajayi called for the need to empower the Judges and Magistrates to carry out their bold assignment without fear or favour. He kicked against Federal Government’s bail condition adding that the FG should not use the prison as a source of revenue generation
Speaking, the Chief Judge of Ondo State High Court, Hon. Justice Olanrewaju. O. Akeredolu noted that some Magistrates include payment of compensation in preparing conviction warrants. She warned officers saddled with the responsibility to prepare conviction warrants to desist from including it in the processes prepared by them. She said,” compensation does not form part of sentencing. Whenever the need arises to sentence a convict to a term of imprisonment together with fine, the same order must stipulate the period of imprisonment in default of payment”.
She also noted during prison visit that a convict was punished for intent to cause harm. She clarified, “the law does not punish intent unless it is an attempt to commit a crime or the actual commission of a crime. She therefore admonished Magistrates to scrutinize the charge before them.
Justice Akeredolu said that supervision of non-custodial sentences would require the training of probation officers thereby calling on Federal government to look into the recruitment and training of probation officers hat would be attached to various prisons. She disclosed that the salient provisions of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act the Ondo State government has domesticated as Administration of Criminal Justice Law (ACJL), particularly in the area of non-custodial sentencing.