Feeding Of Inmates At The Correctional Centers
Sometimes in March 2023, Sola Fasure, Media Adviser, representing the Honorable Minister of the Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, at an event in Abuja, dropped a bomb shell that as from January 2024, the Federal Government will only feed Offenders of the federal laws, while the States will take care of the state Offenders.
It will be recalled that earlier in the same March 2023, President Muhamadu Buhari signed into law, a constitutional amendment that removed prisons administration from the loaded Exclusive Legislative List to the Concurrent Legislative List, thereby giving powers also to the State Governments to manage the inmates in the state Correctional Centers.
The Honorable Minister further stated that, out of the 75,507 inmates in the 244 Federal Correctional Centers nationwide, about 90% of them are state offenders. He stated that the Federal Government spends about N1 Million on each of the inmates annually. This connotes that the Federal Government had been spending its revenue allocation, on the feeding of the state offenders, without any financial consequence or reimbursement from the States.
Feeding of in-mates is the most important aspect of prison administration. Food is a necessity of life and a veritable tool by which in-mates are calmed down especially in times of emotional crisis. At every correctional center, food serves as a daily dose of sanity. Inmates don’t have anything other than food, to maintain life, growth and energy needed for the body to function. Lack of food can damage long term wellness, exacerbate pre-existing conditions and can lead to chronic diseases for the inmates.
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According to the UN Standard Minimum Rules for Treatment of Prisoners, otherwise known as the Nelson Mandella Rules, every prisoner is entitled to food of nutritional value, adequate for health and strength of wholesome quality. In the 2023 Appropriation Act, the Federal Government revealed that it would spend N22.4 billion to feed the inmates. Unfortunately, any hungry dog will reject the meals currently served at the Correctional Centers despite this humongous amount.
However, it is doubtful if this constitutional amendment, without more, can change the existing situation or result in any advantage to the inmates or the entire prison administration, if there is no policy change. Before this additional burden, states have chronic financial problems, to the extent that some of them cannot even pay salaries of their workforce.
Therefore, if there must be any meaningful change, there has to be a significant adjustment of the present allocation formula or upward review in the revenue of states to enable them cope. This position was canvassed by the Governments of Ogun, Gombe, Ondo, Delta, Borno, Osun and Rivers. They denied having the largest number of inmates in the nation’s correctional centers, sought for a new revenue formula and advocated for an upward review of the current revenue of states from the Federation’ Account, to enable them shoulder the proposed responsibility. (See Punch 15/5/23).
The problem of feeding of inmates cannot be solved by only putting the prisons in the Exclusive Legislative List. The problems have always been that the prison administrators have been highly corrupt and they divert funds meant for feeding into their private pockets. There are also problems of congestion of the prison facilities as a result of high number of Awaiting Trials, avoidable delay in criminal justice administration and lack of basic and supporting infrastructure, to cater for the well-being of the inmates to achieve the reformation and reintegration roles of the Correctional Centres.
A policy change in the administration of feeding of inmates in the country will bring solution to the current dismal meals being served at the correctional centers. It is also suggested that public advertisements should be made. Not only this, reputable Food Companies or Food Outlets within the vicinity of the Correctional Centers should be encouraged to bid and compete with others. Competent hands should be engaged to provide food for the inmates, on a contract basis. The advantage of this is that the Food Vendors will be easy to identify and there will not be too much inhibition to discover and punish infractions, by the appropriate agencies.
Inmates should be more encouraged to engage in money making ventures like weaving, farming, shoe making, sewing, arts and crafts etc, to augment their feeding. The various Non Governmental Organizations should also be encouraged to assist in the provision of food to inmates.