Reducing Crimes and the Recidivism Rate: a Comparative Study of the Nigerian, Norweigian and United States Prison Systems.

ABSTRACT

It is commonly said that you do not know the value of a thing until you lose it. It is easy to ignore life behind bars when you have your freedom on the outside. Incarceration or imprisonment is a punishment imposed by law for the commission of an offence. Generally, an incarcerated individual still has his rights though some may be restricted such as the right to freedom of movement, as is the case with imprisoned fellows. He is not sentenced to imprisonment to die due to congestion, transmittable diseases, poor quality food or any of the myriad of deplorable conditions plaguing all Nigerian prisons. This study seeks to prove how a more conducive correctional facility would reduce crime and recidivism rates in Nigeria by drawing a comparison between the prison systems in Nigeria and that of US and Norway which boasts of the best prison facilities across the globe.

Keywords: Crimes, Recidivism, Comparative study, Prison system, Correction.

Introduction

The major reason behind the establishment of any Prison in any part of the world including Nigeria is to provide a rehabilitative and reformatory facility for those who have violated the rules and regulations of their society.[1] However, imprisonment especially in Nigeria is mostly conceived as a means of inflicting pain and suffering on the inmates with no means geared towards rehabilitating inmates so that they may be subsequently reintegrated back into the society. The general understanding of a higher percentage of the Nigerian populace is that simple offenders are admitted into prisons only to be discharged at the end of their jail terms as hardened criminals. Despite Nigeria’s progress on democratic, economic and political reforms, Nigeria’s prisons are yet to make any notable impact on the reformation and rehabilitation of its inmates,[2] even with the enactment of the Nigerian Correctional Service Act.[3]

According to Ostreicher,[4] it is assumed that those who have committed crimes need help, and should be assisted to lead a good life. This view is predicated upon the understanding that those who have fallen foul of the collective norms and laws of the society expressed in criminal laws should be reformed; that is why the term correction is applied to reflect this thinking. Criminologists and experts are increasingly coming to the conclusion that conditions under which many offenders are handled, particularly in prisons and other institutions are often a detriment to rehabilitation.  Consequently, for a large percentage of inmates and ex-convicts in Nigeria, correction does not correct. It becomes apparent with a study of the living conditions that these facilities are rather for punishment with no aim of rehabilitating inmates. A large number of these inmates who have either been convicted or are awaiting trial remain in Prisons and are left in dehumanizing conditions for many years because the cells are inadequate in terms of ventilation, light, space and comfort. It is a norm in these facilities for there to be a blatant disregard of fundamental human rights as individuals in these supposed correctional institutions live in inhumane environments. The major criticism against the Nigerian Prisons Service (now known as Nigeria Correctional Service) today is its inability to actualize its main objectives of ‘reforming’ and ‘rehabilitating’ the Prisoners entrusted in its care. Studies conducted by experts on the correctional facilities available in Nigeria show that the Nigerian Correctional Service is far from achieving the reasons why it was set up.

On the other hand, however, some countries of the world have opted to create a humane environment for their prisoners and focus majorly on making them ‘better neighbours’. The prison systems in these countries have recorded huge successes in performing their roles as prisoners actually come out rehabilitated and better suited for responsibilities. The rate at which they commit another crime is also greatly reduced. Against this background, this paper makes an argument for reform in Nigerian prisons.

Prison System in Norway and United State of America

Depending on where they are locked up, experiences of inmates differ. How a country treats its inmates says a lot about the government’s values in general. Nations that mistreat prisoners mostly record human rights abuses against the wider population. However, Nordic countries[5] generally have an enviable track record when it comes to minimizing the number of people who enter and re-enter their prisons. They focus on nurturing prisoners into becoming “better neighbors,” and although many people may bristle at the idea of offenders of the law having access to computers, swimming in the sea and tending horses, it seems to be working.

Incarceration in Norway’s criminal justice system focuses on the principle of restorative justice and rehabilitating prisoners. Norway’s correctional facilities focus on the care of the offender and making sure they can become a functioning member of society upon their release. As a country, Norway has one of the lowest recidivism rates in the world, currently at 20%[6], and this is even as they lock up only the most serious criminals who are more prone to re-offend.  With approximately 3,933 offenders in prison and one of the lowest crime rates in the world, Norway’s prisons are renowned for being some of the best and most humane in the world[7]

For the Norwegian Correctional Service, normalising life behind bars is the key philosophy. The country has a total capacity of around 4,000 cells which are spread out among a relatively large number of facilities, of which close to two-thirds are high security and five are female-only[8]

The maximum civilian prison sentence in Norway is 21 years of imprisonment. However, at the end of the initial term, five-year increments can be added onto to the prisoner’s sentence every five years, indefinitely, if the system determines he or she isn’t rehabilitated. After serving one-third of their sentence, prisoners in Norway are eligible for parole on weekends and early release after two-thirds[9]. For more serious offences, there is no eligibility for parole for ten years. Also, though relatively new, “crimes against humanity” carry a sentence of 30 years. Norway’s incarceration rate is just 75 per 100,000 people.[10]Norway also has a relatively low level of crime compared to the US. The majority of crimes reported to police there are usually theft-related incidents; violent crime is mostly common only to areas with drug trafficking and gang problems.[11] Based on the information elucidated above, it is safe to assume that Norway’s criminal justice system is doing something right. Few citizens there go to prison, and those who do usually go only once. The country relies on a concept called “Restorative Justice”[12] which aims to repair the harm caused by the crime committed rather than punish people.[13] This system focuses on rehabilitating prisoners. Prisons in Norway maintain as much “normalcy” as possible. That means no bars on the windows, kitchens fully equipped, and friendships between guards and inmates. For them, denying a person of his freedom is enough of a punishment. Prisons in Norway provide inmates with vocational programs such as woodworking, catering, painting and even a recording studio.

In the words of prisoner governor and clinical psychologist, Arne Wilson,

… In the law, being sent to prison is nothing to do with putting you in a terrible prison to make you suffer. The punishment is that you lose your freedom. If we treat people like animals when they are in prison, they are likely to behave like animals…[14]

In Norway, prisoners have the same rights as any Norwegian citizen. They can vote, have access to school, to health care and so on. The idea is to give them a sense of normality and to help them focus on preparing for a new life when they get out. Many inmates are released from Norwegian prisons as fully qualified mechanics, carpenters and chefs. Here, it takes two to three years to train a prison officer as opposed to an average of 12 weeks that operates in most systems. Like many of the social institutions in the country, Norway’s prison system has been commended as one of the most humane, and forward thinking on the planet.[15]

The Prison System in the USA

The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. the country’s prisons are focused on punishment of the offenders rather than reforming them. This results in a system that fails to rehabilitate criminals hereby leading to high crime and recidivism rates. Nearly two-thirds of the inmates released every year return to prison. A research on recidivism in the US conducted by the United States Sentencing Commission (USSC) revealed that nearly half of the 25,000 federal offenders monitored over a period of 8 years were rearrested for a new crime or a violation of supervision conditions.[16]

America has only 5% of the world’s population, but about one-quarter of the world’s incarcerated population can be found there. U.S. prisons are dangerously overcrowded. For example, California’s 33 prisons have a total capacity of 100,000, but they hold 170,000 inmates.[17] The rate of incarceration has increased from 300,000 prisoners in the early 1970s to 2.3 million today. Mass incarceration breaks up families and causes former convicts to become unemployed. This has raised the American poverty rate by 20%.[18] Apart from overcrowding, there is the problem of insufficient staff and poor feeding and health system.

However, decades gone by, there are some signs that the federal government thinks that the highly punitive system of mass incarceration seems to have gotten out of hand, and some states are making gestures toward making prisons less crowded.

Reforming Prisons and Correctional Facilities in Nigeria As A Means of Reforming the Criminal.

The Nigerian prison system was established in accordance with three forms of penal legislation which operate alongside each other in the country;

  1. The Penal Code and the accompanying Criminal Procedure Code Cap 81 Laws of the Federation 1990 (CPC).
  2. the Criminal Code and the accompanying Criminal Procedure Act Cap 80 Laws of the Federation 1990 (CPA).
  3. the Sharia Penal Legislation in 12 northern states (which applies to only Muslim members of these states).

By its establishment philosophy, the Nigerian Correctional Service is an institution meant to administer penal treatment to adult offenders. Its importance is in the bid to reduce crime and criminals in the society. On the basis of imprisonment policy, the prison service was established to manage criminals in prison yards[19]. The Correctional Service Act empowers the Nigerian prison operatives with the following powers and functions:

  1. keep convicted offenders in safe and proper custody,
  2. keep awaiting trial inmates in custody, until law courts ask for their production
  3. punish offenders as instructed by the law courts
  4. reformation of convicted prisoners
  5. rehabilitation and reintegration of prisoners who have completed their sentences in prison.

The Nigerian Correctional Services Act of 2019 sets out its objectives as the cardinal point around which all the activities of the correctional service must revolve and they include the following:

  1. ensure compliance with international human rights standards and good correctional practices;
  2. provide enabling platform for the implementation of non-custodial measures;
  3. enhance the focus on corrections and promotion of reformation, rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders;
  4. establish institutional, systemic and sustainable mechanisms to address the high number of persons awaiting trial.[20]

Inferring from the above, it can be deduced that the principle behind the operation of prisons by a modern state is not only custody for criminals who constitute a security threat to the state but also to reform, rehabilitate and subsequently reintegrate them back into the society as better individuals. Thus, the Nigerian Correction Service in carrying out its objectives ought to contribute to national security of the state significantly by ensuring that persons sent to prisons come back into the society as rehabilitated citizens.

As summarized by Amnesty International on Nigeria, “the living conditions in the prisons are appalling. They are damaging to the physical and mental well-being of inmates and in many cases constitute clear threats to the health of inmates. Conditions such as overcrowding, poor sanitation, lack of food and medicines and denial of contact with families and friends fall short of UN standards for the treatment of prisoners. The worst conditions constitute ill-treatment. In many Nigerian prisons, inmates sleep two to a bed or on the floor in filthy cells. In no way is it possible for an individual to go through these conditions and be expected to be able to function in a modern society.[21]

Recommendations

It is unrealistic to expect Nigeria to have prisons with the same standards as that of countries like Norway because quite frankly, even most residential houses in the country are not up to that standard. However, what this paper is pushing for is a humane environment for inmates and another chance at making a success out of life. It is the major principles guiding prison systems like that of Norway that we want Nigeria to imbibe and not the provision of an Olympic sized swimming pool for inmates

This paper therefore recommends as follows:

First, Nigeria should embrace alternative measures to imprisonment. There is an urgent need to institute alternative measures to imprisonment especially for lesser crimes to reduce the number of inmates in Prisons.[22] Alternatives can take the form of fines, community service, probation, house arrest, reparations, court-ordered addiction treatment or therapy, et cetera.

Second the Nigerian Correction Service should be removed from the supervisory control of the Ministry of Interior and should be under the Ministry of Justice as this would aid in the ascertainment of justice through an all-inclusive approach.

Third, there should be an establishment of a National Prison Education and Training Board which would be saddled with the responsibility of conducting compulsory and free Education in prisons for both convicted and awaiting trial inmates.[23] The Board should also be responsible for providing vocational training and certifications for inmates so they will be better equipped for life after prison and not have to fall back into crime.

Fourth, a Prison Aftercare Committee should be put in place to assist the prisoners in actualizing their acquired potentials and reintegrating them back into the society.

Fifth, the backbone of every development plan is funding. The government should allocate more funds to the service and ensure the establishment of more correctional service facilities putting in mind the architecture of modern prisons across the world. This would help reduce congestions in prisons. Existing facilities should also be renovated to align with the aim of promoting humane treatment of prisoners.

Sixth, the entirety of the prison staff should be adequately trained on how to relate with prisoners. Not just any person should be employed into the correctional service. The way inmates are treated or attended to by Prison officers have a great psychological effect on them. As such, the role of the prison officers should not be treated with levity.

Conclusion

Reforming our prisons and adopting principles of restorative justice may seem to some a trivial issue that should not be accorded much consideration; however, when closely looked at, it plays a major role in the nation’s security situation. A good prison system would mean that convicted individuals would come out with a sense of responsibility and as better individuals generally with little or no propensity to commit crime again and in the long run, this will greatly reduce crime rate in the country and even promote development as ex inmates would bring back to the society skills they acquired while locked up. In the end, it is a win-win situation. If you tell someone they cannot get better, they won’t; if you tell someone they can, they might just have a decent shot. This is made evident by the comparison of the American Prison System and that of Norway. America prison system adopts a punitive approach and is focused mainly on ensuring that an offender gets punished for his crime. The Norwegian Prison System however is structured in such a way as to ensure rehabilitation and reformation of offenders. The resultant effect of the former approach is an increased crime and recidivism rate while that of the latter is a reduction in crime and recidivism rate in the country. It is on this note that this paper calls on the Federal Government to begin taking steps towards the transition from the purely punitive approach currently operating in Nigeria to a restorative and rehabilitative one. Twenty years ago, Norway moved away from a punitive “lock-up” approach and sharply cut reoffending rates, it is time for Nigeria to take that leap.

About the Author(s)

Adeola-Bello Halima Oluwatobi is a 400 Level Law Student, Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti; Email: [email protected]

Ahiante David Ehidiame is a 400 Level Law Student, Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti; Email: [email protected]

References

[1] Arinze Esomnofu “Role of the Nigerian Prison Service, in prisoner’s rehabilitation” <https://www.academia.edu/11709829/THE_ROLE_OF_THE_NIGERIAN_PRISON_SERVICE_IN_PRISONERS_REHABILITATION_a_study_of_Owerri_Prison_> accessed 30 January 2020.

[2]Adebayo Yinka Adeyiga  “SOCIAL AND HEALTH CONDITION OF THE NIGERIA PRISON INMATE” <https://www.academia.edu/29370147/SOCIAL_AND_HEALTH_CONDITION_OF_THE_NIGERIA_PRISON_INMATE.docx.> accessed 31 January 2020.

[3] Nigerian Correctional Services Act 2019.

[4] Awunghe Achu and Emeka Josephat and Omono Cletus ‘The Impact of Prison Reforms on the Welfare of the Inmates’ <https://globaljournals.org/GJHSS_Volume13/1-The-Impact-of-Prison-Reforms-on-the

-Welfare.pdf. Accessed on the 4th of February 2020> accessed 4 February 2020.

[5] They include Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Iceland and their associated territories- Greenland, Faroe Islands and Aland Islands.

[6] Christina Sterbenz ‘Why Norway’s Prison System is so successful’ (2014) <https://www.businessinsider.com/why-norways-prison-system-is-so-successful-2014-12?IR=T> accessed 21 January 2020.

[7]Ibid.

[8] Life in Norway Editorial Team ‘Prisons in Norway: Inside a Norwegian Jail’ (2018) <https://www.lifeinnorway.net/prisons/> accessed 30 January 2020.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Compared to 707 people for every 100,000 people in the US.

[11] Life in Norway Editorial Team ‘Prisons in Norway: Inside a Norwegian Jail’ (2018) <https://www.lifeinnorway.net/prisons/> accessed 30 January 2020.

[12] ‘Restorative Justice’ <https://www.restorativejustice.org/university-classroom/01introduction> accessed 30 January 2020.

[13] Christina Sterbenz ‘Why Norway’s Prison System is so successful’ (2014) <https://www.businessinsider.com/why-norways-prison-system-is-so-successful-2014-12?IR=T> accessed 21 January 2020.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Life in Norway Editorial Team ‘Prisons in Norway: Inside a Norwegian Jail’ (2018) <https://www.lifeinnorway.net/prisons/> accessed 30 January 2020.

[16] Drew Kann, CNN ‘5 facts behind America’s high incarceration rate’ (2019) <edition.cnn.com/2018/06/28/us/mass-incarceration-five-key-facts/index.html> accessed 23 January 2020.

[17] Ibid.

[18]  PSYCH 424 blog ‘America’s Prison System is Flawed’ (2019) <https://sites.psu.edu/aspsy/2019/03/04/americas-prison-system-is-flawed/> accessed 26 January 2020.

[19]Adetula Gabriel and Adetula Adeyemi “The prison subsystem culture: its attitudinal effects on operatives, convicts and the free society” <https://www.ajol.info/index.php/ifep/article/view/51662> accessed 1 February 2020.

[20] Nigerian Correctional Service Act (2019), S. 2(1) (a-d).

[21] Obioha, Emeka “Challenges and Reforms in the Nigerian Prisons System. Journal of Social Sciences.”  <https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09718923.2011.11892910> accessed 1 February 2020.

[22] Arinze Esomnofu “Role of the Nigerian Prison Service, in prisoner’s rehabilitation” Accessed 30 January 2020.  Nigerian Correctional Service Act (2019), S. 37(1)(a-e).

[23] Nigerian Correctional Service Act (2019), S. 27(1).

Author: ABUAD Law Review

The ABUAD Law Review (ALR), is a Journal published by the Afe Babalola University Law Students’ Society. It aim is to contribute to law and policy reform, not just in Nigeria, but the world at large by fostering rapid dissemination of preliminary research results by students, legal practitioners, teaching and research scholars.

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