No fewer than 62 juvenile offenders and 67 inmates with disabilities held at Kirikiri Female Prisons and Kirikiri Medium Prisons, Lagos, were on Monday released on the orders of the State Chief Judge, Justice Olufunmilayo Atilade.
She said her intervention, particularly at the Female Prisons, was part of efforts to address the problem of underage offenders being locked up in prisons across the state.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Atilade had on Aug. 1 released 80 juvenile offenders held at Badagry Prison, Lagos, for sundry offences.
The juvenile inmates, who are below 18 years, were arrested and prosecuted by the Lagos State Task Force on Environmental and Various Offences such as hawking and breach of peace.
They are serving various prison terms after failing to pay fines imposed on them by the mobile courts across the metropolis.
During Monday’s visit to the Kirikiri Prison, Atilade released 13 underage girls from the female prison and 49 underage boys from the Medium Prison.
She said:“I am here with my delegation comprising judges of the High Court, officials of the Ministry of Justice, Office of the Public Defender (OPD) and Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP) as well as other stakeholders.
“We are here to address the issue of underage offenders in our prison, we need to look into the problem.”
The Head of Family Court in the state, Justice Yetunde Idowu, in her address, restated the Lagos State Government’s “zero tolerance” for children in prison.
“It does not give us pleasure to be here, the Chief Judge, as well as other women here, are mothers and grandmothers.
“The Lagos State Government has zero tolerance for children in prison, you should be home with your families,” she said.
Idowu admonished the underage inmates not do anything that will bring them back to the prisons.
The Head, Prison Decongestion Committee, Justice Oluwatoyin Ipaye, decried the condition of the children serving terms in the adult prison.
Describing the situation as very sad, she noted that in instances where children break the law they should be dealt with a “lighter hand”.
“The team is here, My Lady, the Honourable Chief Judge, has signed the release warrants and what is important is that we do not see you here again.”
Mrs Funlola Odunlami, the Lagos State Solicitor-General, said the state government had enacted laws that prohibited putting children in adult prisons.
Odunlami told the girls not to bow to peer pressure, pointing out that the state law forbids Hawking.
Justice Atilade while releasing the 13 juveniles from the female prison, told the ecstatic girls to “go and sin no more”.
From the Kirikiri Female Prison, the Chief Judge made a stop-over at the Kirikiri Medium Prison to free more juvenile offenders and well as disabled inmates from custody.
NAN reports that the Kirikiri Medium Prison which has the capacity for only 1, 700 inmates, currently accommodates 3,816 inmates, of which 3,093 are awaiting trial, while 723 are convicted.
The chief judge said her visit was prompted by an `SOS’ from Mrs Modupe Olubanwo, the Head of the Legal Team of the Fountain of Life Church.
She noted that the names of 81 juvenile offenders were submitted to the High Court for screening for release with 49 certified for release from custody.
To the 49 underage boys, Atilade said:“Go and sin no more” and ordered the seven of the freed male juveniles be handed over to the officials of the Ministry of Youths and Social Welfare for supervision and rehabilitation.
While releasing the 67 inmates with physical disabilities, the chief judge said their release was on health grounds.
“I have taken cognizance of the fact that 67 people living with disabilities are in the prison, I hereby release them on health grounds.
“Those that have been convicted of their crimes will be handed over to the Ministry of Youths and Social Welfare for their empowerment and rehabilitation.”
Earlier, in his address of welcome, the Deputy Controller of Prisons in charge of Medium Prison, Mr Emmanuel Oluwaniyi, praised the chief judge’s efforts in decongesting the prison.
“This is the second time the Chief Judge is coming here to release inmates, the first time she released 64 inmates and this time we are hoping for the release of over 100 inmates.
“We thank you for the mother we have found in you, the release of the inmates has reduced the pressure on the prison,” Oluwaniyi said.
NAN also reports that the release of the inmates is in line with Section 1 (1) of the Criminal Justice Release from Custody Special Provisions Act, Laws of the Federation 2007