Ibrahim Muhammad, chief justice of Nigeria (CJN), has directed the release of inmates in correctional centres who have no confirmed criminal case.
In a letter issued on Friday and addressed to all chief judges, states judiciaries and the FCT, the CJN said there is an urgent need to decongest Nigerian prisons owing to the COVID-19 pandemic.
He directed judges to embark on a personal visit to prisons within there jurisdiction and identify those deserving of release.
Muhammad also told judges to take urgent steps towards ensuring speedy dispensation of trials.
According to him, available records show that the ”inmate population at various custodial centres across the country currently stands at about 74,127 out of which 52,226 are awaiting trial persons (ATPs)”.
“Most of these custodial centres are presently housing inmates beyond their capacities and the overcrowded facilities pose a potent threat to the health of the inmates and the public in general in view of the present circumstances, hence the need for urgent steps to bring the situation under control,” he said.
“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 six years or more in custody.
“ATPs who have no confirmed criminal cases against them, aged inmates and terminally ill may be discharged.
The CJN asked that special 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 the 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,” he added.
He asked that a report of the proposed visit should be forwarded to him “for compilation and onward transmission to the presidential committee on correctional service reform and decongestion secretariat, federal ministry of justice, Abuja”.
The CJN also asked chief judges to ensure that lower courts “comply with requirements of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act/law in issuing remand warrants in criminal cases especially in cases which are not within their jurisdiction”.
“This will regulate the volume of entry of awaiting trial inmates into custodial centres,” he said.
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