Covid-19: Rights activist pleads for female prisoners

By Kunle Ilyasu
Following the federal government’s pardon to 2, 600 custodial inmates in a bid to stem the spread of coronavirus, a gender focused group, Proactive Gender Initiative (PGI), has called for pardon for women in custody especially pregnant, nursing mothers and those awaiting trial.
National coordinator of PGI, Bar. Esther Uzoma, speaking in Abuja on Friday said it has become urgent and imperative for the federal government to balance its prerogative of mercy as it seeks to decongest custodial centers across the country.
Uzoma, while applauding the FG’s gesture, stressed that for the measure to be far-reaching and inclusive, female inmates should be given first consideration as they are mostly affected dire situations such as the coronavirus pandemic.
“It is worthy of commendation that the federal government has granted pardon to about 2, 600 custodial inmates. But it is important that something far-reaching and enduring is done at a time such as this and this is granting pardon to women inmates-those that are pregnant, nursing mothers and women that are awaiting trial.
“Also, we are pushing that even those who have been convicted should be considered for pardon,” Uzoma said.
According to her, in order not to run round in circles, non-custodial sentencing should be highly considered by the courts for women if not the essence of the pardon will be defeated.
“You see in going forward with this issue of granting pardon, it is expedient that the law is applied judiciously to avoid running round in circles. Mercifully, the Administration of Criminal Justice Act is there to help. Part 44, Sections 253 and 254 of the ACJA have addressed the matter of non-custodial sentencing in extenuating circumstances as we have now,” the PGI coordinator stated.
She added that the PGI was ready to collaborate with the government in streamlining the process of pardon for female custodial inmates as it has been providing legal services to several of such persons.
It would be recalled that the Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola, during a press briefing in Abuja, last week, announced government’s pardon to prisoners to include the infirm and senior inmates.
According to the minister, inmates who are 60 years and above, those battling with health issues, prisoners who are to serve less than three years in jail and inmates with less than 6 months in jail time will get pardoned, with a fine of not more than N50,000.
He said, “This amnesty will not apply to inmates sentenced for violent extreme offences such as terrorism, kidnapping, armed banditry, rape, human trafficking, culpable homicide and so on.”

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