The Federal Government and the 36 states may soon begin sharing the N10m bill for feeding about 54,642 inmates in the nation’s prisons.
The Federal Government will also ensure that each state provides the N200 approved for feeding each person sent to the prisons by its courts.
The Minister of Interior, Mr. Abba Moro, who stated these in an interview with Saturday PUNCH on Tuesday in Abuja, said any agencies or government that presses for a custodial sentence for any suspect would be responsible for their welfare.
He stated that the Federal Government had sent a bill for the amendment of the Prison Act to the National Assembly to provide for community service for convicts with minor sentences.
He said, “Our proposal is that if we want to get serious about unnecessary incarceration of persons by various officials of state governments.
“We are proposing that, without prejudice to the exclusive nature of prisons, those who incarcerate people or commit people to prisons must take responsibility for their welfare and their upkeep.
“I have gone round the states. The prisons are Federal Government prisons. If a state brings people that have committed any offence to prison for breaking its laws, such a state must take responsibility for their upkeep, including moving them to court for trial.”
The minister noted that 70 per cent of prison inmates in the country were awaiting trial.
He said that if the country succeeded in solving the problem of awaiting trial inmates, it would have the lowest record of prisoners in the world.
Moro stated that the President Goodluck Jonathan administration was determined to solve the problem of prison congestion.
He said, “The major problem that we have today is that perhaps because of the inadequacies in the number of judges in our courts, we have not been able to expeditiously dispense justice.
“There are people who ordinarily should have served their term but because of the slow pace of the justice system, they are in prison awaiting trial.
“We have the problem of people, who have been accused of theft or petty crimes, languishing in prison awaiting trial beyond than the period they would have spent if they had been given justice,” he said.
Moro said the ministry had started a classification of inmates in the nation’s prisons.
He stated, “As today, as I am talking to you, all the people within our prison system have been classified according to the nature of their crimes.
“What we are working on now is to, within the ambit of the law, ascribe to each person the prescribed penalty. In the process we intend to proffer an alternative punishment mechanism or structure that will make it possible for people with minor offences to engage in community service as a punishment.
He said that although prisons were owned by the Federal Government, most of the inmates were those who violated state laws.