LAGOS – Some lawyers in Lagos have urged the Federal Government to rehabilitate prisons in the country to prevent recurrent jail breaks.
The lawyers, in an interview with newsmen in Lagos, decried the deplorable state of most prisons in country, blaming this for the recent jail breaks.
Reports state that jail breaks were recently recorded in Lokoja, Ado-Ekiti and Minna in the months of November and December, respectively, thereby raising public concern.
Chief Felix Fagbohungbe (SAN) blamed the spate of jail breaks in the country on the long neglect by government of the prison system.
According to him, the prisons were set up as rehabilitation centres and therefore deserve adequate attention of government.
Fagbonhungbe said that most of the prisons were built many years ago and currently were populated beyond their capacity.
“Some of these prisons have old structures and were built years ago with minimal capacity; but as time progressed, the number of criminal cases increased, and so also the same number of inmates.
“The prison system has completely been abandoned by the government; they are overcrowded and the inmates are not given the necessary attention.
“The prison structures in place are in a bad shape; a prison that was built for about 500 inmates, now accommodates over 1,000 inmates.
“There is no discipline in the prison; the warders are not motivated in terms of remuneration, and so, even the inmates give stipends to these warders who allow them have their way in custody.
“It therefore follows that there is a need to rehabilitate the prison system to improve its standard.
“There is also the need to relocate some prisons so as to cater for the growing population of inmates,’’ he said
Fagbonhungbe said that it was imperative to separate convicted criminals from those awaiting trial, in a bid to avoid breeding more hardened inmates, and forestall incidences of jail breaks.
“Although the prison is not a place of rest, it however requires certain minimum living standard for its inmates,” he said.
In the same vein, another lawyer, Mr Emeka Etiaba, urged magistrates to carry out routine visits to the prisons, and conduct summary trials for inmates charged with minor offences.
He deplored the use of mobile phones by inmates in prison, contending that this was a major factor which enhanced jail breaks.
“One of the worst things that have happened to our prison system is allowing prisoners use mobile telephone.
“When you visit the prisons, you find these prisoners using telephone and that is why it is so easy for them to communicate with those with whom they plan these jail breaks.
“In a bid to forestall these incidences, there is the need to ban the use of telephones in prisons and also modernise the prison to take care of security lapses.
“Some of these prisons were constructed before the Second World War.
“There is also a need to have more armed personnel guard the prisons; when you visit the prisons, you find few warders, and these can hardly stop any organised force from invading the prisons,’’ Etiaba said.
According to him, there is also the need to decongest the prisons and ensure adequate consideration for the prison staff.
“You find that in a prison with a capacity of 1,000 inmates, there are about 3,000 and out of this number about 97 per cent are awaiting trials.
“So, if we must forestall jail breaks, there must be a decongestion of the prisons,’’ he said.
In his remarks, Mr Spurgeon Ataene, believes that jail breaks were an offshoot from the unpalatable condition of the prisons in the country.
“There are dilapidated structures in the prisons and these structures have been there for several decades.
“The prison system is supposed to be under the Federal Ministry of Interior, and so there should be budgetary allocation to expand and rehabilitate the prisons.
“The use of phones by inmates in custody is one of the major causes of jail breaks in the country.
“Some of these prisoners’ hatch their plans while in custody, through the use of these mobile phones;
“if there are no telecommunication system for these prisoners, how can they hatch such plans in custody?
“I think these inmates are being over indulged by the warders, and this should be a source of concern,’’ he said.
Ataene, therefore, called on the government, to put in place adequate measures to reposition the prison system in the country.