A non-government organisation, Prisoners Rehabilitation and Welfare Action, PRAWA, has called for the decriminalisation and declassification of petty offences in the nation’s codes.
PRAWA’s Programme Officer, Katumi M. Oboirien, on Wednesday, January 22, made the call in her welcome address at a media capacity workshop on penal reforms in Nigeria, which took place in Kano, Kano State.
She disclosed that a good number of persons held in various correctional centres across the country are petty offenders, who ordinarily should not have been sent to prison.
Explaining that in most cases, these petty offenders are convicted or detained in police custody for offences that are minor such as wandering, idleness and public nuisance, she argued that the codes that formed the basis for some of these arrests by security operatives have since been repealed, but are surprisingly still being enforced by the policing authority.
She disclosed that from the experience garnered working closely with prisoners in the state, it was discovered that many petty offenders could not afford to pay the fines imposed on them by the courts.
She added, “Even when we get some good and kind-hearted people to help them pay their fines, another crowd of petty offenders is arrested and sent to prison the following day.”
While advocating for reforms of the criminal justice sector, she challenged the state government to come up with innovative and creative ways of punishing petty offenders to avoid putting unnecessary pressures on the correctional centres, even as she advocated for community service, such as cleaning roads and washing toilets as new ways of punishing petty offenders.