566 views | Ezinwanne Onwuka | May 14, 2021
Prisons are public institutions established by government for the rehabilitation and reformation of individuals who are at breach of the law. It is any institution that holds a captive in custody.
Prisons have been in existence since ancient times. They didn’t serve as a form of punishment back then but rather were just used to hold individuals until they receive their punishment which included beheading, death penalty and public shaming.
Ancient punishments were cruel and harsh but today, punishment is aimed at making lawbreakers or criminals’ law-abiding citizens including prisoners. Punishment has become very essential for law that’s broken. People are always given some sort of punishment if they break any law, probably to deter others from doing so.
Prisons, most commonly known as correctional institutions, have been an integral part of Criminal Justice System along with Police and the Courts. The main aim of establishing the prison institution in all parts of the world, including Nigeria, is to provide a rehabilitation and correctional facility for those who have violated the rules and regulations of their society.
I was opportuned to visit one of the prisons (correctional centres) in the country in 2017 as a requirement for one of the courses I offered in my second year – Philosophy of Human Rights. The idea was to visit the centre, Nsukka Correctional Centre and write a report on how the fundamental human rights of the prisoners (inmates) were violated. I went and what I saw was pitiable and pathetic.
The prison was in a terrible shamble. The congestion rate among the inmates was so high that, despite the inadequate amenities and/or facilities, the centre with a population capacity of 186 inmates was housing 262 inmates. Its infrastructures and logistics have experienced centuries of neglect that have made the prison, at that time, to be a moral equivalence of hell. I am certain the case won’t be different in other centres aacross the country, and that nothing has changed since 2017.
Little wonder, the Nigeria Correctional Service has failed to achieve its major role of rehabilitation and reformation of inmates but rather the scenario has been that of dehumanizing situation and hardening of the inmates by subjecting them to horrible and degrading conditions, giving punishment exceeding the crimes committed; in the process, rendering inmates physically and psychologically damaged in an uncaring environment.
Welfare is a practical factor that helps every organism to live. Man is not left out. In circumstances whereby one’s welfare is denied, it tends to affect his/her overall wellbeing. Like other humans, prisoners’ welfare is essential for their survival. Unfortunately, their welfare provider (government) has failed to make available the needed welfare packages for them.
The Nigerian prisons have been enormously characterized by some problems, which accounts for the inadequacies of the system as a corrective institution.
In relation to social infrastructure, there are no good recreational facilities and other amenities in most correctional centres in Nigeria. The Nigerian prison environment, with regard to amenities, can be characterized as unsavoury. Physical infrastructure and housing facility could better be described as dehumanizing. The rooms and cells are not good for human habitation, while the beddings are in most cases absent as many prison inmates in Nigeria sleep on bare floor.
Furthermore, in spite of the cry by various human rights organisations, most prison yards in Nigeria are overcrowded beyond the carrying capacity. This manifests in most of the centres holding more population of inmates than they were originally planned to accommodate, which in turn overstretches available infrastructure beyond their limits of function due to human pressure.
To worsen the situation, there are no standard hospitals, drugs and qualified medical personnel to take care of sick inmates. The medical centre I saw at the Nsukka Correctional Centre was not qualified to be called a “medical centre”. It was in a deplorable condition! One bed, no hospital equipments – infact, the medical centre was indeed a sham! Even when there is a need to take a sick inmate out of the prison yard for treatment in a hospital, there are no vehicles to do that. The case wouldn’t differ from other centres in the country; as most prisons have small clinics or sick bays which lack medicines and medical personnel, and in many centres, inmates have to pay for theirown medicines.
Also, though the inmates are exposed to skill acquisition programs like carpentry, weaving, barbing etc. The facilities are inadequate, if not lacking, which means that the skill acquisition workshops do not yield much fruit.
From the foregoing, it is evident that Nigerian Correctional Centres are a very unsavoury environment, and they actually breed and harden criminals. The dehumanizing state of the Nigeria prisons demonstrates a condition that cannot, effectively, guarantee the reformatory process of the inmates. The reason we often wake up to hear news of a prison break is because no sane person would love to be in that dungeon!
Various dehumanising nature in the prisons and lack of rehabilitation facilities makes the system to be incapable of refining its inmates. Ideally, the centres should serve every society as a reformatory, but only when the necessary things are in place, if not, the whole process will amount to wastage of human resources. In Nigeria, because the Correctional Service does not have the capacity to rehabilitate, it contributes very little or nothing to the development efforts in the country. However, if the inmates are reformed properly by subjecting them to dignifying human condition and made to be more responsive, then their contribution to the overall development in Nigeria could be felt upon their release.
In so doing, we might come to the realisation that treating prisoners better may actually yield better results than treating them like they don’t have any social value and human dignity.
Although prisoners have their rights revoked until they are released, however, prisoners still retain some rights. Prisoners enjoy basic rights that are protected in law. For example, they have the right to food and water, protection from assault and access to courts. They are legally entitled to contact family and loved ones, either via prison visits or over the phone and can write letters to whomever they choose once a while (as long as the letter adheres to certain rules).
Some of the rights of the prisoners include:
1. a) Inmates have the right to be free from inhuman conditions because these conditions constitute “cruel and unusual” punishment.
2. b) Inmates have the right to complain about prison conditions and voice their concerns about the treatment they receive. They also have a right of access to the courts to air these complaints.
3. c) Inmates are entitled to medical care and attention as needed to treat both short-term conditions and long-term illnesses. The medical care provided must be “adequate”
4. d) Inmates have the right to be free from racial segregation in prisons, except where necessary for preserving discipline and prison security etc…
Article 1 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights states “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and right…” This being the case, the respect and regard for individuals’ and peoples’ rights need be upheld at all times, in all places, irrespective of circumstances of birth, colour, race, political, cultural and religious differences.
This could be observed in the words of W.T Stace, who maintains that the general law of right is “be a person and respect others as persons”. In the light of this, inmates should be treated with respect as befits their dignity as human beings. This will go a long way to curb the cruel dehumanizing conditions they are subjected to.
Ezinwanne Onwuka, Cross River State.