Last week, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, said the Nigerian government is adopting a new plan to de-congest prisons that have at least 70% inmates awaiting trial.

Non-custodial sentencing was what he tagged the new plan.

In plain terms, the phrase means the separation of persons that have committed simple offences from hardened criminals.

It sounds like a great plan on paper but is it implementable?

Why Non-custodial Sentencing May Not Work

Pastor Kayode Williams has first-hand experience of what Nigeria’s prison looks like and he is an advocate of prison reforms.

He says non-custodial sentencing is a right step in the right direction, but he believes it should be implemented after several other reforms must have been carried out.

Profiling of prisoners in Nigeria is one thing that the Prison Service cannot boast of, the pastor said, and he believes there is no way non-custodial sentencing will work when there are no proper records.


"Identifying first offenders is one thing that the government must first resolve. Knowing our antecedents in Nigeria, how do they know the first offenders?

"We don’t have proper record of those who have been to prison before.

Kayode Williams on prison reforms
Pastor Kayode Williams of the Prisons Rehabilitation Network

"In the olden days, we use to have finger prints of all convicted prisoners and when they are getting discharged, they know how many prisoners have been in prison that are leaving.

"Now, nobody knows. Once they release them, that is all," he stated.

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There is an international standard for facilities in every prison, but Nigeria falls far below par. A situation, the ex-convict said had gave birth to hardened criminals.

"In advance countries, they are looking more on different areas of decongesting the prison and that is focusing on rehabilitation.

"Immediately you release, you get the people properly reformed, rehabilitated, reintegrated and they will settle back into the society.

"There will be no excuse of going back into crime and coming back to the prison.

"When you talk of decongestion, the facilities on ground now are better for animals that are in the zoo.

"Facilities that are of modern standard. Facilities on education and different social areas of life, including their bedding, ventilation and other needs.

"The inhumane treatment meted out to convicted prisoners is breeding hardened criminals instead of reform prisoners," Pastor Williams emphasised.

Over the last 10 years, only a few states have increased the capacity of their prisons, but they are still congested.

A prison in Rivers State which has a capacity of 1,254 is home to 4,424 inmates.

Also Read: Prison Decongestion: Attorney-General Announces New Plan

According to a report published by the National Bureau of Statistics, only the under-listed states have increased the capacity of their prison in the past 3 years.

Bayelsa - from 200 prison capacity in 2014 to 400 in 2015

Benue - from 1,408 in 2014 to 1508 in 2015

Enugu - from 1394 to 1154 in 2015

Kaduna - from 20102 to 2832 in 2016

Kano -  from 1,840 to 2,116 in 21016

Lagos - from 3,897 in 2014 to 3,927 in 2016

Nasarawa  - from 762 in 2014 to 812 in 2016

Ogun - from 1,484 in 2014 to 1,916 in 2016

According to the report, there were at least 68,686 inmates in prison in 2016 growing with 5.62% in the previous year.

For the non-custodial sentencing plan to work, Pastor Williams recommends total reform of the prison system, with focus on the Nigeria Prison Service officials whom he says contribute to the formation of hardened criminals within the restrictive walls.