NAS urges FG to decongest Port Harcourt prisons
• 3,218 inmates awaiting trial
THE National Association of Seadogs (NAS), Rivers State chapter has appealed to the federal and Rivers State governments to help decongest the 97 year-old prison, which has capacity to accommodate only 804 inmates.
Over 3,218 inmates are awaiting trial at the prisons. This congestion may be attributed to a protracted strike by judicial workers in Rivers State.The courts were reopened three months ago.
The Acting Controller of Port Harcourt prisons, Mike Okorie, while receiving members of the association during a courtesy call to the prison yesterday, said despite the reopening of courts in the state, the prison remained congested. He said the number of inmates has increased to about 3,586 due to the arraignment of several suspects who had been in police custody in court, following the suspension in June of the almost one year judiciary workers strike.
Okorie stated that though the acting chief judge of the state, Justice Daisy Okocha, on assumption of duty had released 11 inmates, there is need to further free more persons to decongest the prisons.
According to him, the overcrowded prisons remains a threat to the security of the state and efforts must be made to holistically address the underlying issues responsible for the congestion.
The deputy controller of prisons who reeled out statistical breakdown of the inmates as follows, 3,176 male and 42 females awaiting trial; 73 male and eight convicted female; 248 condemned male and nine female, as well as 26 others serving life sentence, urged the courts to transfer inmates to other prisons in the state rather than the already overstretched Port Harcourt prisons.
NAS Chairman in Rivers, Herbert Nwaka, explained that the courtesy visit was necessitated by the desire to be acquainted with the situation in the prisons as it embarks on prisons reform and decongestion advocacy in Rivers State.
Nwaka observed that the congestion of the Port Harcourt prison posses a security challenge to wardens securing the facility and the society in general. He appealed to the relevant authorities to expedite action to free suspects who committed minor offences.
Okorie stated that there is a national strategy to decongest prisons across the country because most of the persons incarcerated are merely suspects who have been dumped in prison cells. And in most cases, he said the affected persons end up spending more time in jail than if they had been convicted of the offence.
He appealed to the Ministry of Justice to ensure speedy trial of cases in court so that inmates who are not culpable for the offences they are accused of can regain their freedom and decongest the prison.
He stated that there was high anxiety in the prison last year when it was reported that some persons have died of Ebola virus in Port Harcourt.
According to him, an epidemic outbreak at the prison will result in the lost of several lives.
The prison boss advocated for the building of more prisons and expansion of existing ones to reduce the burden on Port Harcourt prisons and others. He said now the 97 year-old prison falls under the jurisdiction of 63 courts and several police stations.