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We are to decongest prisons nationwide – CJN

By Idowu Abdullahi, 

Worried by the possible spread of coronavirus among inmates, the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Ibrahim Muhammad has directed all Chief Judges, both at the federal and state levels, to ensure speedy trial and monitor decongestion of correctional facilities nationwide.

He said the advice by the United Nations to countries around the world on the need to reduce the population of prison inmates since physical distancing and self-isolation in such conditions are impossible, had necessitated the directive.

Muhammad said since the inmates’ population at various custodial centres across the country stands at about 74,127 out of which 52,226 are Awaiting Trial Persons (ATPs), the judges need to take urgent steps to decongest the facilities in mitigating the spread of the pandemic.

The CJN, who is also the Chairman of the National Judicial Council (NJC) through a circular marked: NJC/9-3/:+9/II/662, and issued on Friday, decried overcrowding of the correctional facilities, adding that such poses potent threat to the health of the inmates and the public in general in view of the outbreak of coronavirus with the country.

“Considering the above, it has become imperative for your lordships to embark on an immediate visit to all custodial/correctional centres within your respective states to identify and release deserving inmates, where that has not been done already.

“During the requested visit, the Chief Judges are enjoined to consider the conditional or unconditional release of Awaiting Trial Persons who have spent 6 years or more in custody.

“ATPs who have no confirmed criminal cases against them, aged inmates and terminally ill may be discharged. It is expected that particular attention should be on the aged, those with health issues, low-risk offenders, those with no sufficient legal basis to remain in custody, inmates convicted for minor offences with or without an option of fines and inmates who have less than 3 years term left to serve having served a substantial term of their service for offences that attract 5 years and above.

“Payment of fines may be made in favour of inmates convicted of lesser offences with the option of fine, who are in custody because of their inability to pay such fines,” the circular read in parts.

Muhammad, however, urged the judges to direct lower courts to comply with requirements of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act/law in issuing remand warrants in criminal cases which are not within their jurisdiction, saying such action measures will regulate the volume of entry of awaiting trial inmates into custodial centres.

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