Francis Enobore is the spokesman of the Nigerian Prisons Service and in this interview, he absolves the prison authorities of any blame for keeping babies with their mothers behind bars. Excerpts:
In female prisons, what are the provisions for taking care of children?
First, it is important to establish the sources of children in the prison. Sometimes, female inmates come to the prison with pregnancy at various stages of development. Therefore, to ascertain the condition of females on admission, the service carries out pregnancy test on them and pregnant ones placed under close observation. Some of them eventually put to bed while still in the prison and the babies are allowed to stay with their mothers till they are 18 months before weaning them to family members.
Again, some nursing mothers in conflict with the law are brought to the prison with their babies if below 18 months old.
Now to your question, statutorily, provisions are not made to cater for children in the prison. They are not admitted into the facility with any warrant but are simply allowed in by virtue of their age being below 18 months. Government makes provision for upkeep of prisoners by the number of valid warrant which must accompany every admitted person into the prison.
However, the prisons authority usually makes local arrangement to provide for the innocent children in terms of medicare, clothing, feeding and in some instance, crèche/nursery education as in the case in Kirikiri female prison in Lagos.
NGOs, public spirited persons and FBOs also assist significantly in complementing the efforts of the prisons authority in this regard.
At what stage is a child supposed to be removed from her mother who is an inmate?
At 18 months of age, the child is weaned to the family members and when a credible contact cannot be established with the prisoner’s family, the state welfare department, NGOs or FBOs are contracted to take care of the child and provide foster parenting till the mother is released. This is so arranged because it is taken that before that age, the child is relatively unaware of his environment and as such may not start to develop negative psychological effect of growing up in incarceration.
Are there grown-up children in the prisons? If so, why?
If I understand what you mean, there are no grown-up children in prisons. Just as I have told you, children are weaned from their mothers at the age of 18 months. For the avoidance of doubt, however, there are specialized institutions, located in Kaduna, Ilorin and Abeokuta for reforming and rehabilitating juvenile offenders. These are institutions run like conventional schools with efforts skewed at recovering derailing adolescents.