By Bamidele Kolawole
The last stage of criminal trials is the sentencing. In the event that a person is convicted and sentenced after the conclusion of trial, he is eventually sent to what is now called Correctional Centers. The principal aim of sentencing a convict to Correctional Centers is in two folds. First is to reform the convict and the second is to serve as deterrence.
The criminal law prohibits conduct that threatens the public Interest. It also defines and warns people of the acts that are subject to criminal punishment; distinguishes between serious and minor offenses; and imposes punishment to protect the society. Criminal laws are established to maintain a sane society, to protect citizens’ lives and property.
A unique feature of criminal trial is that it is penal in nature, which implies that there are spelt out punishment for disobedience. Thus Section 36 (12) of the Constitution of the FRN provides that; ‘.. a person shall not be convicted of a criminal offence unless that offence is defined and the penalty therefore is prescribed in a written law.
Under the law, there are different kinds of recognized punishment which includes: imprisonment, imposition of monetary fine, asset forfeiture, detention, caning, restraining order and death sentence. However, Section 36(12) and Section 34 of the constitution of the FRN must be taken into consideration when punishing an offender for a crime, also the gravity of the offence.
Offenses are classified for the purpose of trial and punishment.
For the purpose of trial and imposition of punishment, offences are classified into indictable and non indictable offences. According to the provision of s.494 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 (ACJA), an indictable offence is one that is punishable by an imprisonment of more than two years or a fine exceeding forty thousand naira. From this, it follows that a non-indictable offence is one that is punishable with imprisonment of less than two years, a fine less than forty thousand naira and is punished by summary conviction. Offenses can be classified into Felony, Misdemeanor and Simple Offenses.
From the above, it is notable that jail terms(year) was used in distinguish offences. The import is that imprisonment is one of the major punishments in criminal trial.
Despite this fact, imprisonment is not the best form of punishment in criminal justice. The rationale for sentences offenders to Correctional Centre (then regarded as Prison) is to separate persons who are found guilty of crime from society, to curb further commission of crime and to punish the offender.
Overtime, the imprisonment has been over utilized and Correctional Centres are now overcrowded and this has led to damage to physical and mental health of inmates.
Inmates are subjected to unhealthy conditions and their rights are being violated daily because of prison congestion, poor feeding of inmates, lack of adequate medical care due to the absence of requisite facilities, lack of recreational and vocational training for inmates.
The combined result is that many inmates of Nigerian prisons come out worse than they were. Some even get more exposures and connections to carry out worse crimes once they are out after serving their jail time.
One would recommend that other forms of punishment be utilized to curb crimes, for non-indictable offence punishment such as imposition of monetary fine, asset forfeiture, restraining order, community service, among others should be promoted over imprisonment, except where there are no better alternatives.
However, where imprisonment becomes necessary, efforts should be made to ensure that the inmates are not only punished but they are being corrected and encouraged to be law abiding and better citizens.
Some of such efforts should include rehabilitation and reintegration of inmates, monitoring and oversight mechanisms by relevant body, fair feeding of inmates, provision of adequate medical care and facilities, enlightenment programmes, creation of recreational and vocational training for inmates among others.
Criminological arguments for prisons
One argument for prison is that it is an effective deterrent. Prison can be seen as a tough type of punishment because it takes away your freedom, potential support networks and in many ways, it strips away your identity. The thought of prison is enough for some people to not even contemplate committing a criminal act.
Prison sentences are also a message to the wider public that this is what will happen if you commit a crime. Prison advocates would say this is a message to wider society about what is right and wrong and what will happen if you commit a crime.
Additionally, prison advocates argue that prison is such a difficult time for people that the experience should then deter them from committing any further offences. However, we know that is not the case because many individuals who have committed an offence and go to prison then commit further offences.
This makes us question, is prison a) effective and b) enough of a deterrence?
Criminological arguments against prisons.
The first argument would be that prisons do not work. Those advocating for prison reform highlight reoffending statistics as an example of the ineffectiveness of prisons.
Research shows that long prison sentences have little impact on crime. Time in prison can actually make someone more likely to commit crime — by further exposing them to all sorts of criminal elements.
Additionally, there are arguments that prison does not rehabilitate prisoners. While there are some opportunities in prison, this does not always meet the needs of the prisoners and does not help them on their release due to the views people in society have about imprisonment and criminal records.
On release, three-fifths of prisoners have no “identified employment or education or training outcome”. If prison punishes people through the experience itself but then does not offer those individuals the opportunity to improve and change their lives once they are released, can we realistically expect people to be rehabilitated and not return to crime?
Some believe that the whole prison system is an oppressive institution governed by the powerful that cages the marginalised and powerless.
They would argue that prison further damages people because it causes further trauma, exposes them to further violence, reinforces disadvantage and creates further crime and social harm. The prison also does very little to tackle the underlying causes of crime in communities. However, some have argued that by reducing the prison population, we are still widening the net and criminalising people, as community sentences and alternatives to custody would be increased rather than looking at some of the structural inequalities that may lead to crime and criminal behaviour.
Others argue that prison mainly holds those that are from lower socio-economic backgrounds and ethnic minorities, punishing poverty and disadvantage while protecting the crimes of the powerful. For example, where are the imprisoned individuals from corporations that cause widespread harm, such as those that need to be held accountable for the Grenfell Tower fire, multi-million corporations and so on?
There are many arguments for abolishing prison, and then there are arguments that recognise prison cannot be abolished completely but needs reforming.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime highlights some of the reasons why prisons need to be reformed. These are:
Human rights, as prison is a deprivation of the basic right to liberty.
Imprisonment disproportionately affects individuals and families living in poverty. From the potential loss of income from an individual going to prison, lawyer costs, costs to visit and communicate with that individual, the lack of employment opportunities when released, the marginalisation and so on.
Public health consequences – It is argued that many prisoners have poor health and existing health problems when entering the prison.
These problems are exacerbated due to; overcrowding, poor nutrition, lack of exercise and fresh air. Then there are also the infection rates, self-harm and poor mental health. The argument is that staff will be vulnerable to some of these diseases, and so will the public once these individuals are released.
Detrimental social impact – Imprisonment disrupts relationships and weakens social cohesion.
Costs – The cost of each prisoner for their upkeep, but also the social, economic and health costs mentioned previously, which are long-term.
The Howard League for Penal Reform says on their website.
“The prison system is like a river.The wider it gets, the faster it flows – and the harder it becomes to swim against the tide. Rather than being guided to safer shores, those in the middle are swept into deeper currents of crime, violence and despair. What began as a trickle turns into a torrent, with problems in prisons spilling into the towns and cities around them.”
In conclusion, when we think about the prison, and imprisonment as a punishment and reform option, there is a lot to consider. We need to assess the overall effectiveness of prisons and the need for justice against the harm imprisonment can have on an individual. We must consider the long-term impact the prison has on an individual, not just mentally, but also considering the impact it will have on their life chances and their ability to reintegrate into society.
Source: The University of Law. By Cara Fielder. Published 27 May 2021. https://www.law.ac.uk/resources/blog/is-prison-effective/#:~:text=Research%20shows%20that%20long%20prison,all%20sorts%20of%20criminal%20elements.
Before the modern prison system was developed, most criminals were either executed or forced to work as servants.
However, during the 18th century, there was a push to reform the criminal justice system and create a rehabilitative system instead of a punitive one.
This led to the development of the first modern prisons in Europe and the United States, which were based on the idea that prisoners could be rehabilitated through education, vocational training, and self-reflection.
The Nigerian Prison System started in 1862 and modelled after the British tradition. The aim of the prison system is to train and teach inmates to become law abiding citizens after their incarceration term.
Furthermore, the goal is to provide deterrence and rehabilitation of inmates. The core business of the correctional system in the modern day is to provide rehabilitative strategies or reformatory means to inmates.
This has not always been the case in Nigeria and even in some other countries since former inmates after their prison term are still largely unreformed. They go back into the society becoming more hardened, innovative of new ways to perpetrate different crimes.
In Nigeria, the extant law governing the Nigerian Correctional Service is The Nigerian Correctional Service Act (NCSA) 2019 which repealed the Prison Act LFN 2004 to set out new issues, obligations of the Nigerian Correctional Service and the rights of inmates.
Also, to be noted are the provisions of the Nigeria 1999 Constitution wherein the fundamental human rights of all citizens of Nigeria are enshrined. The rights of inmates are also guaranteed by these salient provisions in the constitution.
The most common misconception about correctional facilities is that they are solely used to punish lawbreakers. In reality, the primary goal of correctional facilities is rehabilitation.
The prevailing societal view is that prison or correctional facilities are primarily meant to make individuals pay for their crimes against society by depriving them of their freedom.
The key question to consider is whether correctional punishment or court-imposed sentences actually deter people from committing crimes? Some writers are of the view that what constitutes sufficient punishment is the confinement, which entails deprivation of many things such as privacy, movement, uninterrupted control of personal belongings, and a host of other life pleasures.
Some people have argued that no form of punishment should be inflicted on humans, and that this includes abolishing the death penalty. Others have argued that the nature of the sentence imposed in court should reflect the severity of the crime.
The provisions of Section 31 of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, state as follows: “Corporal Punishment, punishment by placing in a dark cell and all cruel inhuman or degrading punishments shall be completely prohibited as punishments for disciplinary offences. Section 33 (1) provides thus: “instruments of restraint such as handcuffs, chains, irons, and strait-jackets, shall never be applied as a punishment.
Furthermore, chains or irons shall not be used as restraints. Other instruments of restraint shall not be used except in the following circumstances: (a) as a precaution against escape during a transfer provided that they shall be removed when the prisoner appears before a judicial or administrative authority.
The above provision reflects a modern approach to prison system. The effectiveness of the modern correctional system depends largely on how it’s structured and how inmates are treated while they’re incarcerated.
The modern Nigerian correctional system, has improved over the years. The NCS ACT provides for custodial and non-custodial measures.
The improvement must be celebrated but the system is still plagued with lack of adequate facility to help improve the condition of inmates.
The jail term meted as punishment might not necessarily deter ex-inmate because of the inhumane condition they were subjected to while serving their term. If we want prison punishment to deter inmates, we need to improve on the prison system, improve on the welfare of every inmate and allow every rehabilitative measures be available to inmates. The rehabilitative progress of every inmate must be monitored before they are finally released back to the society.
The rehabilitative process can still be monitored even after they are out of the correctional facility. Inmates who have served their prison term can be empowered by government or NGOs.
While it is true that crime is a societal decadence, the kind punishment given to convicts can help reduce crime rates in the country.
Legally, it is part of the institutionalized correction structure that we have in several countries Nigeria inclusive.
It has been said to be an effective measure for punishment particularly given the modern reforms where inmates are made to participate in vocational education in prison.
Notwithstanding, the reforms, there is room for further positive growth and development in the areas of improving health and other living conditions in Prison.
In essence there’s need for fundamental rehabilitation of inmates for the overall transformation, advancement and safety of larger society by the time they are ultimately integrated therewith.
The last stage of criminal trials is the sentencing. In the event that a person is convicted and sentenced after the conclusion of trial, he is eventually sent to what is now called Correctional Centers.
The principal aim of sentencing a convict to Correctional Centers is in two folds. First is to reform the convict and the second is to serve as deterrence.
However, the question to ask is, has the purpose of sending convicts to Correctional Centers been able to achieve its desired purpose? One may want to answer this question by looking at the rate of crimes in the society.
Crimes are on the increase almost every day. Apparently, what this suggests is that the purposes of sending people to prisons have not been achieved at all. This is attributable to the sorry state of our correctional facilities.
Thus the condition of the prisons ranging from congestion, lack of basic amenities and training of prisons officials for effective reformative agenda are all evident in the quest for a better and crime free society.
The number of awaiting trials in our correctional facilities and the lack of willingness on the part of private legal practitioners to undertake pro bono cases for indigent defendants are part of contributors to this phenomenon.
It is on this premise that one concludes that crimes and criminality are as a result of improper reformative policies of government as it relates to punishment of offenders and sentencing practices.
It is my suggestion that the government should wake up to reality on ground to ensure that the purpose sending convicts to prisons or correctional facilities is achieved in earnest.