Incensed by the lock up of underage girls and boys in adult prisons with hardened criminals for minor offences, the State Chief Judge, Justice Olufunmilayo Atilade, on Aug. 14, 2017, flung open the prison gates across the state for 209 juvenile offenders out of the scores of disease-ravaged minors trapped in the cells.
Their release was greeted with mixed feelings; tears and joy rented the air as the people let loose their pent-up emotions.
What she saw in the prisons enveloped by foul air and smell smacks of pity and indignation.
Atilade’s intervention was prompted by a “Save-Our-Souls’’ from Mrs Modupe Olubanwo, the Head of the Legal Team of the Fountain of Life Church, Lagos.
Olubanwo noted that of the 81 juvenile offenders’ names submitted to the High Court for screening for release, 49 were certified for release from custody.
According to prison sources, some of the children had died before the visitation as a result of worsening sanitary condition, poor welfare, lack of potable water and overcrowding in the prisons.
A breakdown shows 62 in Kirikiri Female and Medium Prisons in Lagos and 80 in Badagry Prison. Added to this are 67 inmates living with disabilities incarcerated at Kirikiri Prisons.
Disappointingly, the juveniles were not imprisoned for serious crimes but for sundry offences such as hawking and breach of peace.
The juvenile inmates, who are below 18 years, were arrested and prosecuted by the Lagos State Task Force on Environmental and Miscellaneous Offences in different parts of the metropolis.
They are serving various prison terms for their inability to pay the fines from N2, 000 and above imposed on them by the mobile courts operating across the metropolis.
An upset chief judge said on her visit to Kirikiri facility on Aug. 14 that her intervention particularly at the Female Prisons was part of efforts to address the problem of underage offenders being locked up in prisons in the state.
By the judicial fiat of Atilade, 13 underage girls were set free from the female prison, while 49 underage boys also breathed air of freedom from the Medium Prison to depopulate the facilities.
Statistics made available to NAN indicate that the Kirikiri Medium Prisons which has capacity for only 1, 700 inmates, currently accommodates 3,816 inmates, of which 3,093 are awaiting trial, while 723 have been convicted.
While releasing the 67 inmates with physical disabilities, the chief judge said their release was on health grounds.