Of digitalisation, prison decongestion and justice sector reforms

Recently, at a public forum, stakeholders in the judiciary sector revisited the issue of reforms in the sector and the place of technology; KEHINDE OSASONA was there.

The Attorney-General of the Federation was instrumental to the speedy passage of the Nigerian Correctional Services Bill in December 2018 which was subsequently signed into law on August 14, 2019, by President Muhammadu Buhari.

Sequel to a directive from the federal government as part of the on-going justice sector reforms, the office of the AGF took the bull by the horns when a committee saddled with the task was subsequently put in place by the AGF and Minister of Justice.

The Correctional Service Act, 2019, which has now became a major turning point in Prisons Reform and Justice Sector delivery in Nigeria has not only addressed the concerns of many stakeholders in the judiciary, it has also marked another milestone in the nation’s national strategies towards prisons decongestion.

According to the AGF, Abubakar Malami, SAN, the on-going exercise has equally brought about some innovations and lately, technology via digitalisation via installation of Virtual Automated Case Management System aimed at fast-tracking prison decongestion.

Alarmed by the deplorable state of prisons nationwide, President Buhari had, in 2017, through the office of the AGF and Minister of Justice, constituted a Presidential Committee on Prisons Reforms and Decongestion. The committee which was chaired by the Chief Judge of the Federal Capital Territory, Justice Ishaq Bello, got the mandate to speedily fast-track the decongestion of prisons.

Virtual automated system to the rescue?

While briefing newsmen on the forthcoming national workshop on “effective implementation of provisions of the Correctional Service Act, 2019,

Malami said digitalisation such as installation of Virtual Automated Case Management System could hasten prison decongestion across the country.

“The system will integrate with the existing Prisons Information Management System (PIMS) with the ultimate aim of effecting a holistic improvement of the efficiency of the entire Justice Sector,’’ he said.

The AGF noted that the digitalising prisons via installation of the virtual automated case management system “will fast-track decongestion of prisons,” adding that “the system will integrate with the existing PIMS with the ultimate aim of effecting a holistic improvement of the efficiency of the entire justice sector.”

Speaking further, Malami said the reforms would not only enhance compliance with international human rights standards, it would also ensure good correctional practices and also provides enabling platform for implementation of non-custodial measures.

The establishment of a standard Skills Acquisition Centre at the Keffi Correctional Centre, according to him, would be replicated in the correctional centres across the federation.

“It is my hope that in no distant time, the prisons, now Correctional Service Centres, will be fully and systematically decongested.

“This will enhance the focus on corrections and promotion of reformation, rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders as provided by the Act.

“The act will enhance the focus on corrections and promotion of reformation, rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders. And it would again helped in the establishment of institutional, systemic and sustainable mechanisms to address the high number of persons awaiting trial.”

3,768 prisoners released in 16 states

The Justice Ishaq Bello committee has since its inauguration visited and appraised at least 34 prisons in 16 states. And in the course of carrying out its national assignment, no fewer than 3,768 prisoners have so far been released.

The committee has also written letters of appeal to several governors on the need to act on some special cases encountered through the powers of clemency in deserving cases or commute to life sentence those condemned to death.

He said the committee, during its visits, also conducted the review of cases of inmates awaiting trial for upwards of years and inmates eligible for Prerogative of Mercy with relevant authorities.

“The committee has also been looking into cases of condemned convicts on death row for over 10 years with the view to getting relevant authorities to commute the sentences to life imprisonment.”

Justice Bello speaks        

Earlier, Justice Bello, in his remarks, said the purpose of the national workshop “is to sensitise stakeholders in the justice sector institutions on the provisions of the Act, particularly the provisions regarding non-custodial services which are newly introduced.

According to Bello, the workshop will provide a veritable platform for the overview and comparative analysis of Correctional Service Act, 2019.

He further said it would also engage participants to work together towards the development of a strategic action plan to support the deployment of non-custodial services as provided under the Act.

Buhari hailed

Meanwhile, the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Malam Muhammad Musa Bello, has hailed President Muhammadu Buhari for putting mechanism in place to decongest prisons in the country.

He noted that the step would help in addressing the nation’s criminal justice system, especially the issue of high number of inmates awaiting trial.

While receiving the Presidential Advisory Committee on Prerogative of Mercy on a courtesy visit in his office, the minister assured that FCT Administration “will work with the committee and other bodies set up by the president to decongest prisons and fast track trials.”

Bello, who also commended the committee “for the noble work it is doing,” said the FCTA would continue to partner with all the agencies handling the prison system with the aim of decongesting the prisons and saving inmates who, for no fault of theirs, have over-stayed their time in prison.

Bello nevertheless promised to give support to the committee to achieve its mandate, advising that it should work with traditional rulers and area council chairmen in the FCT to identify prisoners deserving of presidential mercy.

Going forward

At this juncture, it would not be out of place to crave stakeholder’s collaboration and support of all justice sector stakeholders for the workability of the reforms.

Also, leading stakeholders in the sector reform should endeavour to carry out the responsibility saddled it with patriotism.

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