The Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption (RoLAC) Programme is supporting the reform of correctional services in Nigeria. The programme supported the passage of the Nigerian Correctional Service Act 2019 (NCSA 2019), which came into force in August 2019. The bill, passed by the National Assembly, aims to improve prison management and facilitate decongestion across prisons in Nigeria.
The Act, among others, empowers the Nigerian Correctional Service (NCS), formerly the Nigerian Prisons Service, to implement non-custodial measures (including community service and probation) in the treatment of offenders. This aligns with the provisions of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (2015).
Following the passage of the law, RoLAC partnered with the Prisoners Rehabilitation and Welfare Action (PRAWA) and the NCS to build capacity to implement the new measures.
The sense of urgency that underpins the partnership hinges on the need to end the reliance on custodial sentencing for both serious and petty offences, which is a major cause of overcrowding in custodial centres.
IMPACT OF COVID-19
The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the implementation of non-custodial measures. Judicial authorities, law enforcement agencies and correctional authorities have all begun to encourage non-custodial sentences. This is borne out of concern that sentencing offenders to prison terms could exacerbate the spread of the virus in custodial centres, which could place a further burden on the public healthcare system.
The partnership with PRAWA includes a sustained advocacy with the leadership of the NCS. This led to the designation of key posts to drive the implementation of the new measures: a Deputy Controller General in-charge of non-custodial measures at the national headquarters; Deputy Controllers in all the states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (F.C.T); and NCS officers at the federal, zone and state levels.
The partnership also includes a revision of the extant prison standing orders, the development of a manual for Non-Custodial Correctional Officers on the supervision of offenders during the COVID-19 lockdown, and the training of correctional officers on the manual. Magistrates in the FCT have also been trained.
At the start of the pandemic, 30 correctional officers were designated to pilot the implementation of non-custodial sentencing in the FCT. These officers have commenced supervising offenders who were sentenced to community service for COVID-19 and other criminal infractions during the lockdown. In April, 1736 offenders were sentenced to different forms of community service in the F.C.T.
In Lagos, RoLAC supported the Community Service Unit of the Ministry of Justice with personal protective equipment (PPE) to better deliver the sentencing of community service by the courts in the state. The PPE distributed to the unit includes gloves, hand sanitizers and re-usable face masks. The support also covered the provision of work implements such as hoes, brooms, cutlasses, rakes, wheelbarrows and office consumables, such as A4 papers and printer inks. Between April and May 2020, the unit supervised 730 offenders sentenced to community service by the courts in Lagos.
‘We are thankful to RoLAC for providing us with tools to combat COVID-19.’
Shakirat Karimu, Director, Community Sentencing Unit, Lagos State Ministry of Justice