Nigeria has too many prison inmates awaiting trial – technology could speed up justice


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Nigeria’s prison population is more than 76,000 housed in 240 correctional facilities. About 70% of these inmates are still awaiting trial. They have been arrested and charged but have not yet been convicted or acquitted.

This is the highest percentage of pre-trial detainees in Africa. The latest World Prison Brief report puts the figure at 12.4% for Ghana and 32.9% for South Africa.

The presumption of innocence is enshrined in Section 36(5) of the Nigerian Constitution. It says:

“Anyone charged with a criminal offense will be presumed innocent until proven guilty.”

But the reality in Nigeria, as a number of researchers have shown, is that many people accused of a crime are presumed guilty. They are arrested and imprisoned before their cases are investigated.

Add to this a court system plagued by delays and backlogs – no wonder Nigeria has so many inmates awaiting trial.

There are reports of defendants awaiting trial for 10 years in the US and between 12 and 15 years in Nigeria. This long wait in Nigeria violates Section 296 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015. The law provides that pre-trial detention should not exceed 28 days.

Some efforts have been made to address the situation. The government offers some free legal advice through the Legal Aid Council. It provides free legal aid and representation, legal advice and alternative dispute resolution to Nigerians in need to improve access to justice. But the problem seems unsolvable.

We wondered if a technological solution could be a step towards tackling study backlogs.

So we set out to investigate the situation in two correctional facilities in Abakaliki and Afikpo, cities in Ebonyi State in south-eastern Nigeria. We examined the underlying causes of long waits and ways to address them.

The main causes of delays include the slow pace of police investigations and the loss of case files. Others are an inadequate court system and poor access to lawyers.

Our results suggest that a repository portal system could help solve most of the problems that delay attempts. The portal would be a database storing information about the accused and the current status of their case. It would also be easily accessible. Investigative material and police findings could be uploaded to the portal, which would then automatically assign cases to the competent court based on the type of alleged crime.

This would address the problem of data loss or tampering by criminal justice officials such as police and correctional officers. It also handles the challenge of manually sorting large files.

Such a system has never been proposed or applied in any African country.

What we have done

Our study focused on 1,343 inmates at Abakaliki and Afikpo Correctional Institutions. Of these, 845 (63%) were awaiting trial.

We used structured questionnaires and unstructured in-depth interviews with a sample of 1,498 respondents from the Nigerian criminal justice system and waiting-trials. We asked participants about their experiences in the criminal justice system, whether the processes were automated or manual, and how the process impacted their experience. This was done with a view to identifying the gaps created by manual methods in the system and determining how information and communication technology could fill this gap.

Nigeria’s criminal justice bureaucracy uses manual processes to record and retain information about suspects and evidence, transmit case files, prepare for suspects’ court appearances, and assign inmates to cells.

Some of the problems noted include loss of case files, deterioration of evidence, and delays in preparing inmates for court appearances. Other issues include delays in completing cases and mismatching of cells.

The results showed that 39.1% of police officers (241 out of 617), 69% of prison officers (100 out of 145), and 53.1% of court officers (60 out of 113) believed that automation of criminal justice processes was necessary Using a repository system might fix the delays.

These results are consistent with our qualitative data. The criminal justice officers we interviewed reiterated the importance of connecting and automating all criminal justice agencies with a repository system.

Development of the portal

The information on the portal should categorize offenses as simple crimes, misdemeanors or felonies. Detailed information should be available about the suspects, the crimes they are charged with and the legislation governing such crimes.

Here is the process we suggest for using the repository system:

  • The police upload cases to a database

  • the system can route cases to the nearest competent courts

  • the process can begin

  • After the verdict, those found guilty are sent to correctional facilities to serve their sentences

  • Those acquitted are released and their cases are marked as closed.

To ensure the smooth functioning of the system, a monitoring body independent of the Nigerian Correctional Service should be created. It would monitor the activities of criminal justice officers.

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Citation: Nigeria Has Too Many Prison Inmates Waiting Trial—Technology Could Achieve Faster Justice (2022 November 15) retrieved November 15, 2022 from waiting-trialtechnology. html

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