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Witness support unit will help decongest prisons – PRAWA

The Prisoners Rehabilitation and Work Action (PRAWA), a non-governmental organisation, on Monday said that the witness support unit would help to decongest the prisons.

Mr Yinka Lawal, Acting Executive Director of PRAWA told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Monday that it was an avenue through which the prisons in the could be congested.

Lawal said that Enugu and FCT were the two states which PRAWA was using as pilot states for the programme.

“The witness support unit is an initiative borne out of consultation with stakeholders in relation to the gap identified in the criminal justice system, concerning the speed of criminal justice delivery in Nigeria.

“So many witnesses that could not navigate correctly in the court system are assisted and of course those that are not acquitted with the proceedings of the court are also assisted to know the proceedings.

“The bottom line is that so many people are in prison beyond the capacity of the prison and if you really and critically look at the demography of those in prison, you discover that so many of them are awaiting trial.

“So, one of the ways of decongesting the prison is to bring those people who are not supposed to be in prison out of prison,”  he said.

Lawal said that the prison should serve the purpose for which it was established, namely to reform inmates.

“So, let the prison be for those who are convicted and expected to serve a term so that prison authorities can also focus on their mandate that is reforming the offenders to make our society a better place.

“Then the prison authorities can take care of those that are serving terms through reformative programmess in one way or the other depending on their area of interest.

“Ultimately they should come out better informed and empowered for the development of our society,” he said.

Lawal said that from time0-to-time PRAMA visits the prisons the platform of various projects, including the witness support unit supported by DFID.

“Both projects are initiatives under a sub project called enhancing the attendance of witnesses in criminal trials, the project is supported by the justice for all, which is a programme of the DFID.

“So, we work with stakeholders to identify the gap in the criminal justice system and to develop solution to addressing these problems.” .

He also said that they are working on data recording system that would help the prisons have proper recording system.

“There is an aspect of it that works directly with the prison to build the capacity in terms of their processes and procedure.

“This will help us also to alternate their recording system by providing a computer based management system for them both in the prison and of course in the headquarters.

“As people are admitted into the prison, they are documented automatically and then of course their data also is being received at the headquarters.

“So every point in time a pilot state has up to date information regarding the prison under each state“ Lawal said.

He said that PRAWA also works with Justice for All (J4A) Programme and Legal Aid Council of Nigeria

“In connection with prison inmates as well we have another project initiative which deals with the issue of providing support now in the form of legal assistance for inmates in the prison that do not have lawyers.

“We have the Legal Aid Council of Nigeria whose duty is to provide legal assistance to those who need it; we instituted under this project what we call a clearing house system.

“What that does automatically in simple language is to identify inmates in prison custody who are in need of legal assistance and then document them in a computer based data system at the clearing house.

“So what the clearing house does is to match counsel that are able to provide the pro bono services to inmates in prison who are in need of these services “ he said.

NAN reports that PRAWA established 22 years ago, promotes reforms in both the security and judiciary sector in Nigeria.

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