Borstal homes: Will Nigeria get it right?




The need to review the Borstal Act for Children in Conflict with the law has taken centre stage in recent times following abuse of Borstal Homes in Nigeria, KEHINDE OSASONA writes.

Borstal to some people is a mere coinage usually associated with correctional homes for juveniles, but it was actually a name of a town near Rochester, Kent, in England.

In 1902, the town of Borstal, according to history, hosted the first institution for the detention of juvenile delinquents.

Away from England now, findings have revealed that borstal homes in Nigeria have been grossly abused with unjustifiable practices so much that the quest for reform has now taken centre stage.

Checks by Blueprint Weekend indicated that children in Nigeria’s borstal homes were not classified on the basis of their age, length of stay, degree of delinquency and character as well as physical and mental health.

Consequently, the situation has now become a topical issue and more people as well as stakeholders are getting involved and proffering solutions.

While making the revelation earlier in the year, during one of its trips round borstal homes, the Chairman Presidential Committee on Correctional Reform and Decongestion, Justice Ishaq Bello (Rtd), observed that in the Act provided for the establishment of borstals in each state of the federation, there are only three borstal institutions in the country which was a shortfall of the present law.

Few weeks after the tour, the revelations triggered interest in some quarters so much that stakeholders’ started asking questions and issues relating to children in conflict with the law and the need to review the Borstal Act has continued to generate fuss.

Though the Nigerian Correctional Services Act, 2019, provided for the establishment of borstals in every state of the country and also prohibited Custodial Centres from admitting children under the age of 18, presently, there are only three borstal facilities in Nigeria, and they are situated in Kaduna, Abeokuta and Ilorin.

Commenting on the development, Bello noted that contrary to the provisions of the Borstal Institutions and Remand Centres Act 2004, which allows for only the institutionalizations of offenders between the ages of 16-21, most children in the Borstal home he said had children below or above the stipulated age bracket.

He added that most of them seen at the Ilorin Borstal Institute for instance, were in their 30s and 40s with wives and kids.

“Additionally, children are not classified on the basis of their age, physical and mental health, length of stay, degree of delinquency and character.

“More so, factors like sequence of the delinquency, possibilities of functioning as a contamination risk and requirements of custody, juvenile educational and vocational training needs of children, their background, possibilities of their social adjustment, their prospects after release, as well as rehabilitation are not taken into consideration,” the retired jurist noted further.

Stakeholders’ concern

Before now, the country’s National Assembly, Federal Ministry of Justice, UNICEF, UNODC, NGOs, legal stakeholders and advocacy groups had made moves to impress upon the government the urgent need for the review of borstal institutions Act in Nigeria.

NASS particularly reached a resolution on the matter in one of its motions, asking the Federal Ministry of Justice to ensure that any official of the Correctional Service found complicit in the unjustified incarceration of minors should be prosecuted.

The lawmakers, who frowned at the practice, noted that the Borstal institutions had for long kept delinquent inmates away from adult offenders.

According to them, such a situation could encourage molestation and negative influence that can make them become repeat offenders.

Giving more insights, the Director, Access to Justice, Mr. Joseph Otteh, noted that the whole thing boiled down to the Nigerian Prisons system framework which according to him was still penitentiary.

He identified overcrowding, horrifying sanitary conditions, and poor infrastructure, inhumane nutritional provisions, and the failure of the system to reform their characters as constituting a big challenge.

“A lot of industry and effort has been put into reducing the prison overcrowding problem, with the help of many concerned actors.

“However, it seems every push is marred with parallel counter-force pushing in the opposite direction to exacerbate the problem.

“Prisons should be given the power to reject prospective inmates when the available space and capacity reach a certain threshold that can force States to begin to think of creative ways of handling petty crimes.

“On the part of the government, it’s important to ensure crime control policies they establish are responsible ones, and take account of the finishing lines,” Otteh added.

Similary, at various times, the UNICEF Chief Child Protection, Ibrahim Sesay, and UNODC Representative, Dr. Oliver Stople, have advocated reforms and the need to upgrade the facilities.

For Sesay, the Juveniles needed to be reformed so that the society would feel the consequences, urging the government to sustain the programme just as it pledged both technical and financial support.

In the same vein, the UNODC has also expressed its mission to upgrade the recreational, educational and vocational in the country’s facilities in the corrections.

FG steps in

As the issues still rage, the federal government which eventually berthed some few days ago.

While inaugurating a13-member Technical Committee on the Review of Borstal Institutions and Remand Centres Act 2004 in Abuja, the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami said the review was to make the law more effective and conversant with current laws and times.

Malami, who was represented by the Solicitor General of the Federation and Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Justice, Mrs. Beatrice Jedy-Agba, lamented that the rights of millions of African children were being violated daily without any effective remedy.

The AGF further observed that Nigeria was witnessing an alarming increase in crime and criminal activities involving juveniles that now require effective law to checkmate.

“Our recent assessment of these institutes revealed the shortcomings of the present law. Contrary to the provisions of the Borstal Institutions and Remand Centres Act 2004, which allows for only the institutionalisation of offenders between the ages of 16-21, most children in the borstals are either below or above this age bracket.

“Most of them seen at the Ilorin Borstal Institute were in their 30s and 40s with wives and kids. Additionally, children are not classified on the basis of their age, physical and mental health, length of stay, degree of delinquency and character,” the AGF noted further.

Going forward

As the committee for the review of the Borstal Act was still settling down, concerned Nigerians are already setting an agenda going forward.

Speaking exclusively to Blueprint Weekend, Mr William Ekosan advocated that considering the sensitive nature of the people involved, the federal government newly inaugurated committee for the review he noted should strive to be humane and liberal in its outcome or abolish the borstal totally.

“The committee should ensure that only the more serious juvenile offenders are committed to the borstal homes for corrections.

“I think it is high time we copied something reasonable from the other climes and replicate it well and save the system some hassles,” he stated.

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