Why Soft Criminals Get Worse in Nigerian Prisons: Recidivism on The Rise

Criminals are on the increase and so are the uncountable human and material losses. When the law however catches up with them and we ask the correctional facilities to punish, train, re-educate and reinforce positive actions in the inmates across our prisons, they often come out worse. Why? Why does the demon return in seven fold? Why is Recidivism on the increase? Why are soft criminals becoming hardened and going back to jail?

Correctional Facilities, Prison
Nigeria Correctional Facilities

The Criminal Justice System has been the one dishing out the sticks, convicting people and ensuring they have a space in jail for various offences.  The prison, as well as, other correctional facilities often fail to improve the lives of inmates. The reality as observed from records in different correctional institutions is that first offenders are likely to come back to Prison. In the United States of America, the figure is staggering despite the efforts of the Obama administration to tackle the increase in the number of incarcerated folks. In Africa, especially in Nigeria, incarcerated persons are finding the Prison yard to be their home. The question is, why are they coming back?
Reasons for the high rate of Recidivism

The reasons for the increase in the rate of Recidivism may be complex, because the basis of returning to jail varies across geographical locations, ethnic and racial groupings. Recidivist tendencies are often a product of the environment we find ourselves. The legal system, economic factors, acceptable forms of behavior and the level of social control, mode of punishment to erring members of the society, the criminal justice system and the modus operandi of correctional institutions, contiguity factor and social interactions within the prison system, attraction, escapism from the trauma of past mistakes or from family woes, stigmatization, stereotypes, the strains on social roles and social expectations, the influence of drugs, proximity to instruments of crime and criminally minded, are some of the environmental factors which needs to be examined in understanding why people are going back to the prison.

The failure of correctional facilities

In a study I conducted during my NYSC program at the Olokuta correctional facility in Ondo State Nigeria in 2013, 45 percent of first time offenders were returning to jail because the group and opportunities for crime that brought them to the prisons are still very much in tact when they are out. The cult groups, the weed farm and other hard drug hotspot. Further investigation should focus on the prevailing socio/economic system of a giving society at a particular point in time, and the stimuli of the individual in being shaped by the existing social order. In my experience at a faith based NGO for ex-offenders and ex-incarcerated persons (consider those two concepts), I had the priviledge of staying with individuals who have been released from jail 24 hours a day for 1 year. I discovered that some individuals are more likely to become a Recidivist than others due to some factors, which I considered as a continuum of the social/biology debate.

Majority of those who will later become second offenders have been re-socialized from the institution that was supposed to rehabilitate them. It is therefore, not an overstatement that the Prison is a potent reason for the high rate of recidivism.


The emphasis in most cases, has been on punishment rather than correction. Our correctional facilities reflect an atmosphere of struggle, survival and schisms, competition, disorderliness, violence, solitude and boredom. Individuals must seek to create a self identity within this sub-culture and most times, self identification in the prison walls is often a reflection of what exists within the correctional facility. Most inmates are soon lost in the crowd and soon find themselves entangled in relationships with other wild and established criminals. Although, attraction to individuals with moderate behaviours such as religious folks do exist, but they are mostly in the minority and often do not wield much influence.

The Urgent need for recovery

The survival instincts, which has become part of individual behavior may not be acceptable in the larger society when released, as the individual action soon conflicts with the norms of society. Anger management issues emerges, as the ex-convict and ex-incarcerated tries to find his/her feet on the ground as fast as possible. This is their greatest undoing. I once approached the issue of instant recovery desired by ex-cons from FASTING. The FASTING approach is drawn from the religious practice of abstaining from food for a period of time, as it is done in most religions. An individual who has engaged in fasting is advised to break with something light, so as to avoid constipation. However, during my stay at the rehabilitation centre, inmates were in a hurry to start making money. They desire that their lives get fixed immediately and they are so much consumed with the urgency to return to a normal life without understanding that they had gone on a ‘fast’, which requires gradual recovery and patience.

The prison officials are not helping matters too. Many of the inmates confessed to me how the officials sell drugs to them and make them sell items for money. Those who cooperate with them are given some level of freedom within the cell or given extra meals.

It is important that those who come out of correctional facilities are attended to by significant others. In many instances, efforts of faith based NGOs have helped in molding ex-incarcerated persons where government and the family is not doing enough. Regardless of the reasons for the high rate of Recidivism, mentorship after prison will go a long way in reducing this menace. It is simply beyond the ability of our correctional facilities.

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