One of my most enduring memories of the former Tory leader Michael Howard when he was Home Secretary in John Major's government. His mantra was "prison works." It's an understandably right-wing position to take. If criminals encroach on a citizen's right to peaceful existence, the state secludes those criminals from society using punitive measures. The commission of the crime means that the criminal forfeits the right to be in civilised society and is held responsible for their actions. None of that lefty pinko liberal "blame it on society" claptrap.
Interesting then that Nigeria apparently has a smaller prison population than those incarcerated at Her Majesty's pleasure. The Nigerian government is set to release more than half of its prison population. The report says that Nigeria has 40,444 inmates in 227 prisons. This tallies closely with Home Office's World Prison figures of 2003 which put it at 39,368. The Home Office report of July 2005 put the UK's prison population at 76,266. This works out at 34 inmates per 100,000 of national population, with the UK on a whopping 139 per 100,000.
Call me biased against Nigeria, but I'd never have expected this to be the case. I still think of Nigeria as a country where people get arrested and subsequently disappear forever, like Houdini gone wrong. The figures also allude that Nigerians are more law abiding and less prone to commit crimes for which one can be imprisoned. This is rubbish. Lagos is probably the most crime-ridden and unsafe place in the world, except for Baghdad (which is in a war zone, so it doesn't count). Given the amount of crime in Lagos, its prison population alone should be 40,000. I suspect that Nigeria ranks lower than the UK because the Nigerian justice system grinds slowly, if at all.
People can bribe their way out of jail sentences, law enforcement are reluctant to do their jobs, and the courts don't have the desire to rule on cases where they won't earn much money. I'm encouraged by the move as most of the inmates appear to have been held in violation of the number one right of the imprisoned - habeas corpus. This shows that the Nigerian government is, shock horror, interested in the rights of its citizens. When OBJ came into power, I remember there was a suspension of the death sentence pending review. They planned to have a national consultation about it, presumably with the government leaning towards abolition. The government should not consult the people on this issue. It will be the one thing along with football that Nigerians will unite for.
The prison population in the UK has risen under Labour, not what one would expect of a centre-left party. I'm sure David Cameron's policy wonks are thinking of a novel addition to their list of new voter-friendly policies. "Prison works, in the Scilly Isles. Holiday with your fellow purse borrowers (bag snatchers), life deprivers (murderers), and unwanted inseminators (rapists). A compassionately conseravtive Euro Disney/Butlins fusion island. Voyagers should voluntarily report to their local police station. No handcuffs will be used."
ps. The Guardian has a special report on prisons.