As COVID-19 outbreaks in prisons around the globe have shown, prisoners are particularly vulnerable to be infected. Once the virus has reached the inside of a detention facility, controlling it becomes difficult as social distancing options are limited, when correctional facilities are overcrowded.
Also, prisoners due to their poor health profile are more likely to develop severe symptoms. Confirmed COVID-19 cases amongst prisoners and/or prison officers have been reported in countries like Austria, Belgium, Canada, China, France, Germany, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Italy, the Netherlands, Pakistan, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, Moldova, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States. This number, however, is almost certain to increase in the future.
Following international good practice, the Federal Government of Nigeria announced on April 9, 2020 the release of 2,600 inmates serving sentences for minor offences or whose prison terms were about to expire with a view to reducing overcrowding which has been plaguing Nigeria’s correctional system for decades.
Recent prison riots across the globe have shown that being infected is not the only COVID-19 related risk prisoners and staff are facing. Misinformation and misconceptions about the virus cause stress that can lead to panic, aggression and eventually violence.
Concerned by the vulnerability of inmates and complementing the laudable efforts of NCoS, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has been cooperating with the Service in the production of information materials for staff and inmates providing basic facts about the virus as well as how to protect oneself and others. The materials have been produced in in English, Yoruba, Hausa and Igbo and will be disseminated across the 244 Custodial Centres in Nigeria.
Receiving the materials on behalf of the Nigerian Correctional Service, the Comptroller General, Ja’afaru Ahmed, stated that “this noble donation will assist the Service in its prompt response to curtail and control the spread of COVID-19 and ensure the Service maintains its zero COVID-19 related deaths. At this period of health challenge, any effort made to make life easier for others is appreciated.”