Prison Conditions: Lessons from Nigeria – by Isowo Smart

It is heartbreaking to see voiceless, innocent children imprisoned with their mothers in a heavily congested adult prison cell with little or no care to prepare them for the future. If we agree there is a 60% chance for a child of a convict to be convicted, then what will become of a child neglected to the nurture hood of a prison environment that is electrified with disgust?

The huge number of out-of-school-children is already becoming alarming and a very large percentage of them are used by terrorists in the northern part of Nigeria as suicide bombers. It should be a call for urgent concern globally to see children who should have been in school, but remain on the street, getting arrested and thrown into adult prisons for trying to survive from street selling. Don’t forget the handicapped and sick inmates who need help to stay alive in a prison structure designed to drain hope from healthy minds.

These overcrowded, debasing, dehumanizing and depressing prisons across the country are littered with about a 100,000 inmates with about 75% still awaiting trial. Many inmates have spent longer than the maximum sentences if they were to be convicted on the alleged crimes and offenses. Some have spent over twenty years waiting for justice, justice they may never get until their demise. Others are trapped for not being able to pay fines, post bail or hire legal services. Some have their case files missing, many have no witnesses, and some have no adequate means of transportation to go to court for hearing. The end result of all these delayed processes is overcrowded prisons!

More disheartening is the state of the vocational centers of the prisons. Many are literally empty while the few that are equipped have fewer tools/equipment to the numbers inmates, sometimes 30-50 persons to a machine. This greatly increases pressure on equipment which often lead to break down. The prisons that do have working tools often lack instructors. Skill acquisition should be the beam for reintegration. The idle mind will always remain a tempting ground for crime and other social vices.

The prison officials can never give what they don’t have, as they are underfunded and understaffed. Long waits for government to improve budget to stimulate quality do not help the inmates to become reformed. Another sad reality remains that one day the prison doors will be open! These inmates will never become reformed by the metal doors, armed security guards, big dogs, electric fences and high walls.

This is why CENPRIR (Centre for Prisons Reforms and Inmates Rights) a non-profit, human rights and non-governmental organization was registered in 2004. Supported by family and friends, the core mandate of CENPRIR is to help prisoners live normal lives and fight the inhumanity in prison and poverty in Nigeria.

We have supplied machines to prisons and also help with instructors. We provide free legal services to inmates and pay fines to secure freedom and get them rehabilitated. Many have become better persons in society and some have joined as volunteers.

We also run programs that benefit people outside the prison. They are designed to help people avoid unemployment which remains a cure to the high influx of people to prison. Our current project is aimed at working with hundreds of inmates across 10 prisons and getting them rehabilitated. Over 2500 youths and women have benefitted from our empowerment program.

We will never stop advocating for better prison conditions and the respect for human rights. “Not everyone in prison is either bad or guilty.” The very few that are deserve a second chance to become changed people. A second chance has the opportunity to stir the change and break the chains! At CENPRIR we always say, “if we don’t go to them in love, they will one day come to us in hate”.

Isowo Smart

Country Director of Centre for Prisons Reforms and Inmates Rights - CENPRIR

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One thought on “Prison Conditions: Lessons from Nigeria – by Isowo Smart”

  1. This is a story that needs to be told. It reflects the pain and anguish people go through in certain parts of the world. Some of these stories are usually not brought to light, so my special thanks go to Isowo Smart for keeping us informed and the other thank you goes to Deborah Levine for providing a platform that carries such stories.

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