Some Kaduna-based lawyers on Monday urged the state government to consider releasing some inmates in order to decongest the Correctional Service formations in the state.
Speaking with the News Agency of Nigeria in Kaduna, the lawyers said this was necessary because people in detention were particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 outbreak.
Linda Joseph, a lawyer, said the transmission of diseases in overcrowded facilities is rife, thereby placing the lives of both prisoners and staff at risk.
Mrs Joseph said prisoners live in confined conditions with others for prolonged periods and their hygiene and healthcare are therefore difficult to assess in detention centres, especially during a pandemic.
“There are inmates with minor offences and there are others in the prisons who cannot afford the bail conditions. So, the state government should consider such inmates and release them.
“These proposed measures are not new. For several years, countries have been encouraged to reduce prison populations and now with COVID-19 spreading fast, these measures need to be considered,” she said.
Joseph urged governments to take urgent steps to reduce prison populations, protect people in places of detention, and prevent uncontrollable outbreaks.
Another lawyer, Mukhtar Babanyaro, said releasing inmates with minor offences or those whose release dates are near would be a good step by the state government.
He said this would help to decongest correctional centres and avoid the spread of COVID-19.
Mr Babanyaro said correctional centres were particularly vulnerable to the spread of infectious diseases like COVID-19 as inmates live in close quarters with lean resources for proper hygiene.
He stated that some countries have started recording some COVID-19 cases in their correctional facilities.
“A place like Louisiana in the U.S. had three incarcerated people who have already died from COVID-19 and at least 30 people, including staff, have tested positive,’’ the lawyer said.
Mr Babanyaro noted that, with this development, some countries have gradually started to take action to decongest their prisons.
He added that countries like Ethiopia had pardoned more than 4,000 prisoners whose release dates were near or had been given sentences of less than three years for minor crimes.
“Iran also released over 85,000 prisoners, while France’s Ministry of Justice is asking for short-term prison sentences to be delayed, reducing the number of new prison admissions from 200 a day to 30.
“And, Ghana recently granted amnesty to over 800 prisoners, most of whom are first-time offenders.’’
Mr Babanyaro further urged state governments to review cases of people in detention and release those held in pre-trial detention, particularly those detained for minor or low-risk offences.
He noted that individuals sentenced for minor low risk offences, particularly those who have 18 months or less remaining of their sentence to serve, should be freed.
Also speaking, another lawyer, Linda Ejiofor, said correctional services needed to ensure that the human rights of those in their custody were respected.
“The inmates should not be cut off from the outside world, and most importantly they should have access to information and adequate healthcare provision,” she said.
According to her, in correctional services, inmates share everything from cells to showers to dining spaces and that makes them more vulnerable to the spread of infectious diseases like COVID-19.
“Once the virus is there, it will spread like wildfire because there is basically no way in the crowded conditions that exist in current jails and correctional centres they can implement social distancing,” she said.
Mrs Ejiofor further said in spite of resources being stretched, protective measures should be put in place so that those in detention could still receive access to legal advice and representation.
She added that where this was not possible in person, prisons should provide for unfettered, free access to confidential telephone lines to contact lawyers.