The National Assembly says it is collaborating with the Prisons Rehabilitation and Welfare Action, a Non-Governmental Organisation to curb the challenges bedeviling the Nigeria Prisons Service.
Dr Adams Jagaba, Chairman, House Committee on Interior, made the pledge at the House of Representatives Retreat for the Review of Amendment of the Nigerian Prisons Act on Monday in Enugu.
Jagaba said the committee had conducted intensive research and extensive consultations with critical stakeholders to produce a document that would address most of the challenges inherent in the current prisons system.
He said: “The importance of these amendments cannot be over-emphasised, given the challenges bedeviling our prisons system.
“The House of Representatives Committee on Interior has held public hearings on 8 bills referred to the committee, amongst which (4) are the Nigerian Prisons Service Amendment Act.
“A bill for an Act to establish the special maximum security prisons for persons accused or convicted of terrorism, insurgency, kidnapping and other crimes against the state and other related matters.(HB.487).
“A bill for an Act to establish a correction, reformation and integration centre to provide support services for prisons in the area of reformation, reintegration and youthful offender programming and for the other related matters (HB.452).
“A bill for an Act to regulate community service for offenders in certain cases, to require a person convicted of a minor offence, with the consent of the offender, to perform community service in lieu of imprisonment: and to provide for the other related matters (HB. 488).
“A bill for an Act to repeal the prisons Act, cap. P29, law of Federation of Nigeria, 2004 and re-enact the Nigerian Prisons and correctional service to make comprehensive provisions for the administration of prisons in Nigeria.
“And a bill for an Act to make comprehensive provisions for the administration of prisons in Nigeria and for other related matters (HB. 516 and 517).”
The chairman described the current rise in security challenges in the country as disturbing.
He said the House of Representatives would support efforts at curbing the challenges.
The Controller-General, Nigerian Prisons Service, Ahmed Ja`afaru, said that the focus of prison services in the 21st century was on rehabilitation, adding that the service needed to be to empowered with an act that would enable it to operate more effectively.
Ja`afaru, who was represented by Assistant Controller-General in charge of Planning, Research and Statistics, Suraji Olariende, said that NPS had earlier attempted to have a bill on prisons in 2001 but was not prolific with the process.
He said: “When the prison act first attempted to have a bill on prison which was presented in 2001, many people kicked against it because they did not know the importance.
“Seventeen years down the lane we are yet to have a new bill on prison act.”
The controller-general said the idea of the retreat was to focus on prison correctional and rehabilitation service system to ensure that offenders who got punished would not go back to the same crimes.
He said that the service was looking forward to training prisoners and offenders even while in the prison, adding that the service would train them, rehabilitate them and prepare them for re-integration into the society.
He urged the house committee to act on the prison service bill which he said, when amended would be strong enough to reform and give the prison system a new look.
Godwin Odo, Component Manager, Justice, Rule of Law and Anti-corruption, said that the prison service bill had been in the National Assembly for over sixteen years and needed to be acted upon.
Odo said that it was a welcome idea that the House of Representatives was ready to support the service and that ROLAC would also support the service for the good of the system and the nation.
He said: “We are supporting the access to justice for women, children and persons involved in any related issues on the bill.
“We are also supporting Civil Society Organisations and we appeal to the media to play key roles in propagating the issues relating to justice and corruption.”
Dr Uju Agomoh, Executive Director, PRAWA, said that the prison reform was a way forward to addressing the security challenges in the country and especially issues that affected the prison service.
Agomoh said: “We want this bill to be fast tracked.”
She pleaded that cases of inmates with minor offences should be addressed to decongest the prisons and that those who needed correctional punishment should also be attended to.