Yola, Nigeria, May 2023 – After being caught stealing by his community and handed over to the police, 22-year-old Adamu*, residing in north-east Nigeria, faced a trial that resulted in a prison sentence of 24 months. Overwhelmed by shame and uncertainty about his future inside and outside prison, Adamu wept uncontrollably, feeling the weight of not just the court's judgment, but also the harrowing stories he had heard from former prisoners and their families. The fear of being treated like an animal and enduring further hardships after release haunted him.
On entering prison Adamu isolated himself, resenting the world and blaming dysfunctional systems for his misfortune. However, his perspective began to shift when a correctional officer from the Nigerian Correctional Service introduced him to vocational training programs available to prisoners. Within a short span, Adamu mastered the art of crafting traditional caps, a skill that would prove valuable in shaping his future. Upon his release, he showcased his craftsmanship to the traditional ruler, seeking forgiveness and reconciliation. The community, witnessing his newfound talent and ability to earn a decent living, began to trust him once again.
“Adamu is from my community and is a former prisoner. He is now an employer of labor and makes nothing less than N20,000 on a traditional cap. In fact, he made the cap I’m wearing today.”
This recollection was shared by a traditional ruler during the second dialogue between community leaders and the Nigerian Correctional Service (NCoS), organized by UNODC in Yola, Adamawa State in May 2023.
The experience of imprisonment often leads to significant difficulties and far-reaching consequences, and strains the relationships between incarcerated individuals, their families and society as a whole. Even after serving their prison sentences and acquiring vocational skills to facilitate their law-abiding lives, former prisoners still face obstacles in finding employment opportunities. In cases where they pursue self-employment, like Adamu, they often encounter reluctance from others to provide support, subjecting them to stigma, exclusion and suspicion. As a result, their reintegration into their communities becomes challenging.
In response to this, UNODC is collaborating with the NCoS to develop effective strategies that address barriers preventing formerly incarcerated individuals from successfully reintegrating into society. One such intervention involves fostering dialogue between the NCoS and community leaders, recognizing the critical role of community support in the reintegration process. Without these interventions, former offenders remain at risk of re-offending and reconviction, perpetuating a cycle of recidivism and social marginalization.
The dialogue gathered key stakeholders from the community, including the District Head, to facilitate constructive discussions. Community leaders, religious figures, and the Nigerian Correctional Service exchanged insights and strategies to deepen community engagement in the rehabilitation and reintegration of prisoners.
Heartfelt gratitude to our donor, the United States Department of State, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, for their generous support in making this project possible.
*Name has been changed to protect the identify of the former prisoner.