The Chief Judge of Lagos State, Justice Opeyemi Oke, has freed another batch of seven inmates from the Ikoyi Security prisons in Lagos on Friday.
Oke also freed nine prisoners on Thursday from the Medium Security Prisons in Kirikiri, Apapa, Lagos.
Seven inmates out of the 13 shortlisted were released from the Ikoyi facility during an inspection visit by the Chief Judge.
Oke directed Magistrates in the state to deploy non-custodial sentencing for minor offenders, to decongest the prisons.
The Chief Judge told the released inmates to, henceforth, be of good behaviour and stay away from crime.
She advised them to desist from any act that would bring them back to prison.
“Pursuant to the provisions of Sections 1(1) of the Criminal Justice (Release from Custody) Act, 2007 as well as Section 35 of the 1999 Constitution, you are hereby released from custody today, Dec. 7, 2018.
“I want you to henceforth, be of good behaviour. Make sure you don’t breach any law again. Go out there and sin no more,” she admonished them.
Although three amongst those shortlisted for release were not freed, she regretted that they did not qualify for release.
She said that their trials had commenced and were presently on bail.
Those released included one Yasau Gudu from Plateau, who was released after being on the awaiting trial list since 2016, for conspiracy and stealing.
Gudu, who was elated for being released, said he does not have any money for transportation back to his state but that he will board a trailer back home.
The others were released, having been in custody between three and eight years.
They were said to have stayed longer in custody than the number of years they would have spent if convicted by the court for their offences.
Justice Oke explained that those granted amnesty were qualified for release, after a thorough review of their case files.
She said that Restorative Justice Centre for mediation in judicial criminal matters will commence operations in January 2019.
“All simple cases need not go to the police. The restorative justice centre is a mediation centre.
“If there is an agreement and the guilty one can pay for a missing tooth, why go to court? This is a way of decongesting the prisons,” she said.
Oke also said the Chief Registrar had been directed to issue a circular immediately, on her instruction, to the magistrate courts.
“All magistrates would, henceforth, be monitored to ensure compliance with the directive,” she said.
The Chief Judge urged magistrates to be very liberal, especially in giving bail conditions for minor offences.
She said that the increase in the population of Lagos State has led to the high rate of crime in the state.
“The number of judges we have is few, compared to the number of cases to be addressed and this is a challenge in the prosecution of judicial matters.
She, however, noted that applications were in the process for more judges to be appointed.
“We have been mandated by the Chief Justice of Nigeria and the presidency to decongest the prisons. It is a national phenomenon,’’ she added.
The Deputy Controller of Prisons, Mr Tolu Ogunsakin, in his speech, commended the Chief Judge for bringing hope to the inmates in her efforts to decongest the prisons.
Ogunsakin noted that the Nigerian Prisons Service was also a stakeholder in the initiative to decongest the prisons.
He said that was why the Federal Government set up the Presidential Committee on Prerogative of Mercy for deserving inmates.
He disclosed that Ikoyi Prison was built in 1955 as one of the Convict Prisons in Lagos State, with a capacity for 800 inmates.
“However, our total population as at today stands at 3138, out of which 2644 are awaiting trial, while only 494 are convicted.’’
He appealed to the Chief Judge that the introduction of parole, plea and sentence bargain, acceleration of trials, fines and warnings would be of help in order to decongest the prisons.
“In spite of the large inmate population and predominance of awaiting trial persons, Ikoyi Prison is run as a genuine correctional institution for Reformation and Rehabilitation of offenders.
“Our Human Resource Development Unit has been deeply engrossed in training programmes aimed at equipping the inmates with useful skills to be self-reliant and ultimately law-abiding citizens on their discharge.
“We have been continually committed to ensuring that our inmates do not idle-away but leave our facility better than before their incarceration,’’ he said.
Some of the skills learnt by the inmates are barbing, bead making, fashion designs and art.
The inmates also displayed some of their handwork, which included liquid soap, disinfectants, insecticides, beads and bags.