‘Go and sin no more’, Jesus Christ said to a woman who was caught committing adultery in John 8:11.
Recently, the Rivers State Chief Judge, Adama Iyayi-Laminkanra, adopted those words when she extended state pardon to some inmates of various prisons during her maiden tour to ascertain the number of awaiting trial inmates who were unduly denied justice.
The two-day exercise, brought freedom to 60 inmates of the Port Harcourt Maximum Security Prison. Some of those discharged by the chief judge had been on awaiting trial list and would actually have served out the term of their crimes if they had been tried and sentenced.
Also granted pardon were three critically ill persons and others who had remained in custody for a number of years simply because they were unable to meet their bail conditions.
The gaol delivery, which according to the chief judge, is in line with the Administration of Justice Prison Release Act, was borne out of the need to decongest and reduce the number of inmates and thus spare the facility from being overstretched.
According to Justice Iyayi-Laminkanra, her action was based on a letter received by her office on the need to grant some inmates pardon.
Addressing those discharged shortly before they were let go, she advised them to be good citizens of the society because they might not be lucky again the next time they are brought into confinement.
“As you are going, go and sin no more. There is no excuse that there are no jobs. Many of you can farm, if you get menial jobs you can do it also, instead of going into crime. Next time you might not be lucky when you are brought here, go and be good citizens of the state. Find what to do, don’t join other people to commit crime when you go out of this place. Crime does not pay. Many of you have been here for many years. If you come back here you might not be that lucky so go and sin no more.”
For authorities of the prison, their demands are like that of Oliver Twist. Though they are grateful for the release, there still need more to be done.
Deputy Comptroller, Port Harcourt Prison, Mr. Ndupu Azuka, pleaded with the chief judge to ensure that the burden occasioned by congestion is drastically reduced, stressing that the facility was meant for 804 inmates, but now houses no fewer than 3,824 people.
According to him, the prison recorded its highest stock of 3,824 inmates in May this year, out of which 3,422 are on awaiting trial list. He appealed to Iyayi-Laminkanra to among other things, create a good working relationship between courts and prisons in respect to suspects of high profile cases, who are currently out of prison as lodgers, in terms of adequate security.
He said the challenges facing them include vehicles to convey suspects to court, especially those from outside their jurisdiction like Bonny Island and security for high profile suspects.
According to him, “I consider your Lordship’s visit today as a memorable one, not only to the inmates, their families and society, but to Port Harcourt Prison, as the last visit of your predecessor scheduled for three days was aborted after the first day were only 16 inmates were released.
“My lord, our major challenge is the issue of congestion. It might interest you to know that since the creation of Port Harcourt Prison in 1918 with a total capacity of 804, the prison on May 16 recorded its highest lock up of 3,824 inmates with 3,422 of them awaiting trial.
“While we try our best to keep the situation afloat, congestion stretches our security apparatus and capability beyond limit and also makes nonsense of our reformation agenda and all efforts geared towards achieving same. It is our belief that your coming today will turn the situation around.”
He pleaded with Iyayi-Laminkanra to see how the state government can donate operational vehicles to the prison, pointing out that it covers almost the whole courts in the state. Azuka pleaded with the chief judge to make her visit to the prison quarterly so as to review cases that need urgent attention and reduce restiveness.
For some of those who were discharged, they are ready to turn a new leaf.
One of the discharged inmates said: “I thank the chief judge and every one that played a role in my release. Today, that she has discharged me, I am telling the world that I am going to learn a trade and will never go back to crime. From today, I believe that from the little things I have acquired in this prison and God Almighty in heaven will lead me and give me knowledge.
“The warders tried for me, since I came to this place they taught me how to live a better life. That is why I am praising them. When I was in the outside world I usually get angry easily but when I came to this place, the anger disappeared. I learnt the way a man should live outside here.’’
Another freed inmate added that “I am not going to speak too much. I came here in two ways, sent in by a judge, but today, a chief judge has released me. I am not going back to my vomit again. As I am leaving here, I am going to learn a trade and look for better things to do.”

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