Between June 2016 and June 2018, there were six incidences of jail breaks resulting in the escape of 268 very dangerous criminals most of them on death row. The latest was in Minna, Niger State, where a whole 200 inmates escaped. That the prison officials often claim that the runaway jail birds were later recaptured give little room for comfort to the citizens already harassed on all sides by threats or actual episodes of insecurity, crime and criminality.
Prisons, by definition, are places where criminals are confined. It is designed as a secure facility where anti-social elements are put away as punishment for a crime or while waiting to stand trial. It is also a correctional home or a penitentiary where inmates are expected to get reformed in anticipation of becoming better humans and less threat to the society when they may have served their terms. In addition to the infrastructure itself, there are officials to complement the security arrangement. Yet, and in spite of all these, criminals who take delight in doing the crime and are scared of doing the time, seek illegal ways of getting out before their term is due.
What the rest of the society consider really disturbing is the ease at which those intent on breaking lose succeed in their attempts. Experts, which include the security operatives, the judiciary, psychologists and social workers are often taken aback by this phenomenon made even more scary by its frequency, at least, in the Nigerian context.
Analysts, in reaction to this development, have tended to blame it on a number of factors such as congestion caused by delays in the administration and dispensation of justice; inadequate prison staff; lack of modern equipment in prison administration; inadequate training of officials and paucity of funds to implement basic measures that would have ordinarily made the thought of it unattractive.
The worrisome aspect of the act is that any time there is a jail break, there is also a corresponding panic in the society about its security implication which has to do with an expected increase in criminality especially with regard to the character of the inmates. As a remedy, there have been suggestions on how to fortify these facilities so as to make the escape attempts futile.
Top on the list is that Nigerian prisons have become obsolete and can no longer serve the purpose for which they were built. Most of the prisons in Nigeria were built by the colonial masters and they have remained so ever since resulting in over-crowding that stretches the little amenities available. Worse is that the mentality of the officials is not better than that of the inmates they are tending because some of them spend their whole career lifespan without receiving fresh orientation beyond that which they pick up along the line of duty. And in terms of welfare, the officials are barely better than the inmates.
The location of the prisons right inside the city centre often make these breaks possible. We recall that the Lagos State government has unceasingly appealed to the federal government to relocate Ikoyi prisons from where it presently is. In Ikoyi as in Enugu, Owerri and other places, the facilities are in places that are no longer desirable. Furthermore, there is no space should the government be thinking of expanding existing facilities. That too poses its own dangers as it will be inappropriate to begin to tear down and build up the prisons while the inmates are there. What is required, in our opinion, is the building of new prisons with up to date equipment designed for modern prison administration.
Part of the problem of prison congestion is that though needed, the categorisation of inmates is often not feasible which makes it inevitable to dump hardened criminals and first offenders awaiting trial together. The other is the slow pace of criminal justice administration. In most cases, it sounds ridiculous that cases are delayed because there is no vehicle to transport the accused to court or that the Investigating Police Officer (IPO) has been transferred. In some other cases, it may be that the court is on break or that the Prosecutor in the Ministry of Justice is taking his time in piecing the details together so as to get a favourable judgement. We accept that these are realities on ground. Yet, it neither helps the dispensation of justice, the plight of the inmates who, not only suffer unduly but also end up serving longer terms than they would have if the cause of justice were given expeditious attention nor the condition of the prisons and the welfare of inmates. In the opinion of this newspaper, jail breaks are condemnable so also is prison administration as it is now. These combine to heighten security fears to unhealthy levels in the minds of innocent law-abiding citizens and expose national security to stressful limits.
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