HURILAWS provides legal aid/assistance to victims of human rights violations and has been working on the reform of the Criminal Justice system since 1997. From mid1997, HURILAWS and the Inter-African Network for Human Rights and Development (AFRONET), in collaboration with the Justice Development and Peace Commission (JDPC) of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, executed a pilot project in 2 Lagos prisons to test the feasibility of a major national initiative to decongest prison populations, by securing the discharge of Awaiting Trial Persons. HURILAWS continued with the JDPC and carried out extensive legal aid programmes to decongest Nigeria’s overcrowded prisons. This was done in phases under the HURILAWS’ National Prison Project and began with Project 500, which provided legal services to 500 indigent Awaiting Trial Prisoners [ATPs] in two (2) Lagos prisons. Project 500 was very successful and its successful implementation provided HURILAWS with the technical skills and practical experience for the implementation of the second phase of the National Prison Project, the Enugu Prison project and the third phase, Project 100. The Enugu Prison Project (EPP) was borne out of the need to decongest, improve and bring relief to prisoners and their living conditions in the prisons.
HURILAWS launched another prison project called Project 1000, in late 1998, to release 1000 ATP’s across Nigerian prisons. The project was supported by MISEREOR, Germany and the European Union (EU). In 2002, we concluded another Project 1000, supported by the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), which released 1000 ATPs from South-East and South-West Prisons in Nigeria. The experiences gathered in the implementation of these projects have motivated and empowered HURILAWS to develop and set up Project 5000, the sixth phase of our National Prison Project.
We recognise that providing legal aid alone is only a short-term measure to prison decongestion. While making retail releases, we have to develop the medium and long-term measures which would be, putting in place a standard penal policy that would be easy to implement and would meet International standards.