Non-custodial Sentence Can Assist In Decongesting Our Prisons

Figures from National Bureau of Statistics, NBS,  data show key flaws in Nigeria’s criminal justice system. The figures cover data from 2011 to 2015. It shows that 72.5% of Nigeria’s total prison population are inmates serving terms while awaiting trial and without being sentenced. The NBS report shows that lengthy court proceedings are considered obvious problem and also highlighted a worrying culture of arbitrary arrests by Nigerian law enforcement agencies. In other cases, inmates find themselves in prisons only due to the suspicion of having committed a crime, and not an actual conviction, just as some were merely arrested over petty crimes such as shoplifting and traffic offenses, and or they ended up in maximum security prisons without being charged to court. To put an end to all these, Lagos State judiciary had in line with its ongoing reform launched two new practice directions for the Administration of Criminal Justice Law (ACJL) and the Restorative Justice system provides that petty offenders will no longer be sentenced to prison terms.

At the official presentation of the two practice directions, the ACJL Practice Direction and Restorative Justice Practice Direction, held in Lagos, the Chief Judge of Lagos State, Justice Opeyemi Oke disclosed that the reform was part of effort to ensure effective justice system. Oke harps on the fact that the historical documents would mark a new era in the Criminal Justice administration in Lagos State. She said, “Lagos State has been at the vanguard in terms of criminal justice reform when it passed the ACJL in 2007, amended it in 2011.

Other states followed suit, adopted and improved upon it. Now, Lagos State is going further with these new practice directions to realize the goal of expedited trials, improvement in the case disposal rates and hopefully, this will culminate in the decongestion of our  prisons.’’ She added that the reform would address the challenge of Awaiting Trial inmates, introduction of the Plea Bargain Protocol to encourage Plea deals, enhances Case Management Protocol to ensure that the Prosecution and Defence are properly prepared before trial opens. According to Justice Oke, “Once the Practice Directions comes into operation on June 3, minor offences will be diverted to these centres and Restorative Justice such that persons who commit minor offences will no longer end up in jail.

“So long as they are prepared to take responsibility for their actions and the harm they have caused system,” she said. Speaking further, she said,  “Criminal justice administration in the Country has been beset by a myriad of challenges ranging from ineffective or incomplete investigations, delays in criminal trials, congested court dockets, the awaiting trial syndrome and the attendant congestion of our prisons, to name a few. “Today in Nigeria we have seen countless cases where defendants are arrested for minor offences burglary, wandering, two fighting and so on; they are locked up in our prisons for the flimsiest reasons and join the teeming population awaiting trial. “In fact the Awaiting trial inmates account for more than 75% of the inmates in our prisons today. They are in our prisons with hardened criminals and by the time they come out they have been initiated into  a life of crime and are ready to spread terror, death and destruction in their post-prison escapades,”  Speaking further, Justice Oke observes that the Magistrates Courts, which would use the practice directions