Towards a Safer Nigeria: A Call for Holistic Rehabilitation and Public-Private Partnerships in Nigeria’s Correctional Facilities

By Oluwafunke Adeoye

At the heart of Nigeria’s daily narrative is an escalating crime and insecurity rate, which serves as a conspicuous reminder that the nation is not safe. Complacency is a dangerous pleasure our nation cannot afford. Multiple studies have shown a correlation between poverty and the rise in crime rates. Sadly, this is not always addressed when an individual comes into contact with the criminal justice system for simple offences, some of which are occasioned by hunger.

Some years back, a colleague of mine described his astonishment in court when a defendant was given a two-year prison term for stealing cashew nuts worth less than five dollars, with the option to pay a fine sufficient to purchase one hundred of the same nuts. It should be noted that poverty does not serve as a justification for engaging in criminal activity; however, to effectively combat the escalating crime rate and insecurity, a multifaceted strategy is required, one of which is addressing the underlying causes of specific crimes.

The Nigerian Correctional Service is the governmental entity entrusted with the custody of convicted individuals. In response to CSO pressure, the Nigerian Correctional Service Act was passed in 2019. ‘Corrections’ replaced ‘Prison’, and Section 2(1)(C) of the Act emphasises reformation, rehabilitation, and reintegration as key objectives of the Act.  Section 14 of the Act mandates the service to provide opportunities for inmates to receive agricultural, vocational, and educational training and for modern industrial centres to be built to improve inmates’ employability. The Act further spelt out how the revenue will be managed, with one-third of the revenue going to participating detainees, one-third to maintain the enterprise, and the last third to be deposited into the Federation’s Consolidated Revenue Fund, subject to the Controller-General’s approval.

As of today, our correctional facilities fall short of adequate rehabilitation and reformation programmes. Facilities in urban areas are overcrowded, leading to hazardous living conditions. Sanitation, healthcare, and good nutrition are often lacking. The prolonged detention of a considerable proportion of incarcerated individuals pending trial further exacerbates the problem, the holding of inmates who have commited violent crimes with simple offencers, encourages criminal networks, and the spread of illegal information thrive in these horrible living conditions, which also violate human rights. Educational and rehabilitative resources are scarce, thus leading to an increase in recidivism.

A shared sense of responsibility for this issue is required. In the past, Faith-based assistance has been used to foster behavioural change in the inmates. Now is the time for the private sector to bridge the rehabilitation gap through public-private partnerships. PPPs are crucial to inmate rehabilitation and reintegration because they combine the strengths of both sectors. The government provides regulation and supervision, while together, the private sector and government supply the necessary services. PPPs in correctional facilities can add mental health, vocational, and educational services that government-run systems lack. Private investment can enable scalable and sustainable restoration by filling financing shortfalls. By working together, rehabilitation services are improved and market-driven skills are integrated. This integration improves offenders’ employment and reduces recidivism, making the rehabilitation and reintegration system more effective.

In other contexts, the privatisation of prisons comes with a negative connotation, but that is not what has been suggested here. With the introduction of state corrections per the 5th amendment to the 1999 Constitution, correctional management has now been moved from the exclusive list to the concurrent list, which means state governments can now manage corrections alongside the federal government, giving more room for PPPs. States are now working to enact the State Corrections Law, which will follow the restorative nature of the Nigerian Correctional Service Act.

The new model of correctional service management that is restorative rather than retributive has the potential to transform inmate reformation by targeting the root causes of criminal behaviour, promoting self-reliance, preparing inmates for life after prison, and providing them with resources to support themselves. Revenue generation and industrial centres help correctional facilities be financially stable and instil accountability and entrepreneurship in inmates. These programmes foster self-reliance and break the cycle of crime, increasing employability and reducing the likelihood of reoffending. Community involvement and assistance for ex-convicts are also crucial. Reintegrating people into society demands community involvement and an absence of stigmatisation.

Overall, a holistic approach is needed to reduce recidivism. We must prioritise funding activities that address the root causes of reoffending, foster public-private partnerships, prioritise mental health care, community corrections programmes, and targeted education for justice-impacted individuals. We must all work together to secure Nigeria’s penitentiary system and promote rehabilitation.

 

By Oluwafunke Adeoye

Executive Director, Hope Behind Bars Africa.

Commonwealth Scholar, University of Oxford.


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