Prisoners Are Important: Convicted But Not Forgotten

Since 2010, the world stands aside every July 18 to celebrate a man who devoted his life to the service of humanity. A man who shaped his generation, as well as the 20th century and contributed immensely to constructing the ones after him. The day presents another opportunity to celebrate the life and legacy of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, the man who was regarded as a man of unusual strength, resolute integrity and an uncommon leader. Nelson Mandela international day is to commemorate the legend, and to call to action individuals, communities, institutions and governments to reflect on the values and principles that stood him out, and to adopt the exemplary legacy, making positive impact in their communities. As the world marks Nelson Mandela International Day, it is another opportunity to underscore the point that everyone, irrespective of tribe and tongue, gender or class, has the ability and responsibility to make a positive difference in their communities. A time to inspire change and call to action the need to serve humanity and inspire hope for the next generation. Affectionately known as Madiba, the South African-born activist fought against the wicked regime of his days. With other freedom fighters, Madiba lived for a cause that was beyond him. He helped to bring an end to the apartheid system of racial discrimination and piloted a peaceful transition to a democracy which the country has become known for since then. Rising from incarceration, this prisoner of conscience went to become a legend, not just in his homeland, but across the globe. His role and contributions in the freedom of South Africa may never be rivalled by any other person. To honour the legacy of this great man, the United Nations acknowledge his many years in prison, and came up with what is now known as The Nelson Mandela Rules. These rules specify the treatment of prisoners, and underscore the significance of the prison experience. The Nelson Mandela International day is, therefore, to draw attention to the universal practical application of the UN Standard Minimum Rules for The Treatment of Prisoners. The core of the Mandela Rules includes: Promoting humane conditions of imprisonment; Raise awareness about prisoners being a continuous part of society; and valuing the work of prison staff as an important social service. These rules provide unmistakable yardsticks for prison staff on the safety, security and human treatment of prisoners. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), as the custodian of these rules, works with partners to promote and support their adoption and application worldwide. According to a United Nations report, nearly one in three prisoners worldwide is imprisoned without trial. Nigeria boasts one of the highest statistics, with about 70% of the country’s prisoners still awaiting trial. The Nigerian Correctional Service data available on its portal shows that of 77,684 inmates, 24,099 inmates are convicted, and 53,585 inmates are on awaiting trial as at 3rd July, 2023. This has led to extreme overcrowding in prisons and unbearably dangerous cell conditions. This is despicable. Being convicted of a crime can have far-reaching repercussions beyond prison walls. This can lead to long-term prejudice, limited employment opportunities, strained relationships, and loss of social standing. These effects make it extremely difficult for individuals to reintegrate into society and increase the risk of reoffending. But it’s important to remember that all humans have the capacity to grow and change, even if we make grave mistakes. And the prison plays a pivotal role in renewing their minds and reshaping their lives and the society. Thus, rehabilitation plays an important role in the criminal justice system by providing convicted individuals with life-changing opportunities. Rehabilitation programs address the underlying factors that contribute to criminal behavior by providing access to education, vocational training, counseling and other support systems. They enable individuals to develop new skills, overcome challenges, and rebuild identities beyond beliefs. In addition, rehabilitation instills a sense of hope and purpose, helping individuals regain self-esteem and build positive relationships within their communities. By giving them the tools to succeed, programs like these not only reduce recidivism rates but also contribute to a safer community. We are often quick to criminalize, discriminate, and eliminate prisoners before they are tried by a competent court. But they are not different from the rest of society. In fact, they are a product of our society. While it is also common to ostracize them, especially when they have been convicted, we must not forget that they are still a part of the society. After all, majority of prisoners are eventually released. As members of the society, we are not excluded from what happens to them while in prisons. Life will be better for Nigerians if our criminal justice system is overhauled, prison conditions are improved, and prisoners’ prospects for reintegration is enhanced. When the prison conditions are right for their rehabilitation and reintegration, they may eventually become transformed members of the society again like Olusegun Obasanjo and Nelson Mandela, who have become icons in their generations.


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