The federal government at the weekend inaugurated a 12-man Presidential Inter-ministerial Committee on Prison Decongestion, following the increasing number of awaiting trial persons (ATPs) in prisons across the country.
The Minister of Interior, Mr. Abba Moro, while inaugurating the committee in Abuja, stated that one of the major challenges facing the prisons was congestion among pre-trial detainees.
Moro disclosed that prisons in most urban centres in the country have about 70 per cent of the inmates as ATPs.
He lamented that in the last 25 years, ATPs congestion had robbed prisons’ administration of the ability to focus on its primary mandate.
The minister noted that what the service “has been doing all these years is to ensure safe and secure custody of suspects awaiting trial rather than training and reforming convicted persons.”
He also express disappointment that despite all the measures taken by the federal government to ensure that the criminal justice system is consistent with the provisions of the constitution, including special intervention programmes of Federal Ministry of Justice and regular prison visits by the Legal Aid Council, among other groups, the congestion still require special attention.
He said: “By 2005, the number in the prisons hovered somewhat around 38,328 with 28,363 or 74 per cent , representing the awaiting trial population. As we approach the year 2010, the figures did not show signs of improvement.
"As at January this year, the figures were a total of 41,524 prisoners with 29,372 awaiting trial. This translates to about 71 per cent of the inmates’ population, which is unacceptable."
Moro listed the terms of reference for the committee to include to find out the immediate and remote causes of prisons congestion, decongest the prisons nationwide and articulate short, medium and long term solutions to the problem of ATPs congestion in the prisons.
The committee, which is headed by the Director, Planning, Research and Statistics in the Ministry of Interior, Alhaji Ibrahim Nikau, has representatives from Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Police Affairs, Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Office of the National Security Adviser and National Judicial Council (NJC).
Others are; Department of State Security, Nigeria Prisons Service, National Human Rights Commission, Legal Aid Council, Executive Director, PROWA, Country Director, Cure Nigeria while Director of Paramilitary Ministry of Interior will serve as Secretary.