Responding to the Problem of Prison Overcrowding in Nigeria through Restorative Justice: A Challenge to the Traditional Criminal Justice System

By Nnam, Macpherson U. | International Journal of Criminal Justice Sciences, July-December 2016 | Go to article overview

Responding to the Problem of Prison Overcrowding in Nigeria through Restorative Justice: A Challenge to the Traditional Criminal Justice System


Nnam, Macpherson U., International Journal of Criminal Justice Sciences


Introduction

The traditional criminal justice system in its effort to achieve public safety has for years tenaciously held to the notion that 'tough on crime' involves an effective system of incarceration, and that this alone would address any and all issues we have with social problems like prison overcrowding. The standing belief by many commentators and the public was that the punitive aspects of imprisonment would deter further crime and effectively hold offenders accountable for their decision to commit crime (Downen, 2011). Crime is a social and moral turpitude. It is a bane of the society, which requires the application of justifiable coercions to prevent and control. For this reason, punishment or treatment from the traditional criminal system as an act of fighting crime or subjection of an offender to expiation and penitence becomes necessary. Nonetheless, it is imperative and always ideal to try as much as possible to resolve victim-offender differences, correct antisocial conducts and heal the 'wound' (violation of law without justification) done to the 'collective sentiment' (core norms and values, law) using alternatives to institutional confinement. Therefore, if there is any programme that can be employed in addressing the problem of prison overcrowding in Nigeria is restorative justice measure.

At present, Nigeria has no statutory provision for restorative justice in its traditional criminal justice system, although such justice intervention programme was widely practiced in the county prior to the British incursions and stretched to the early phase of colonialism in the country. What is more, restorative justice is still though, to a lesser extent and in an informal setting, practiced in some communities in contemporary Nigeria. The traditional Igbo society in the present-day Southern Nigeria, for instance, placed prime emphasis on restorative justice as a means of processing deviants and criminals. Nnam, Agboti and Otu (2013) affirm that the Igbo socio-politico-legal system is deep-rooted in traditional associations (restorative justice administrators) which serve as informal agents of crime prevention and control (restorative justice administration). Beginning from the pre-colonial era through to the present, these revered justice institutions: age grades, town unions, youth organizations, masquerades/secret societies, among others, have maintained and sustained social justice, order, progress, stability and peaceful coexistence among the Igbo nation using restorative justice mechanisms.

Restorative justice is victim-offender-community-centered justice intervention programme. It is devoid of non-custodian measures of balancing the scale of justice that was made uneven by crime and criminals. To restore justice is to re-establish sanity, mutual understanding and peaceful coexistence after an estrangement, conflict, victimization and occurrence of crime. With this particular justice system in place, the social harm inflicted on individual or community, threatened security and property loss are, to a large extent, restored. In support of the views so far expressed in this article, Braithwaite (1998), Levrant, Cullen, Fulton and Wozniak (1999), and Braithwaite (2002) acknowledge that restorative justice is touted and praised for its efforts at working towards accountability on the part of the offender and the efforts of the offender to restore victims and the community to the position they were at prior to the crime.

Zehr (2002) explains that restorative justice requires that society address victim's harms and needs, hold offenders accountable to put right those harms, and involve victims, offenders, and communities in the process of healing. It is a set of guiding questions that provide an alternative framework for thinking about wrongdoing. Despite the inclusive role of restorative justice in penal administration, Nigeria is yet to formalized this emerging option for conventional criminal justice system in its criminal code (for Southern Nigeria) and penal code (for Northern Nigeria). …

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