A MOTHER and her two daughters on Wednesday sent a passionate appeal to the nation to set them free from the Nsawam Maximum Security Prison (NMSP) where they are serving a three month jail term.

The mother and daughters as well as a breast feeding grandchild have been locked-up after being convicted for “stealing” half a fertiliser sack of in-husk corn, which if processed would measure less than two cans of maize.

This extraordinary story was narrated by one of them during a Multi-Stakeholder Conference on Non-Custodial Sentencing Policy and the Zero Draft Bill in Accra.

According to the story, the mother and her two daughters were jailed after they were arrested for harvesting corn on a farm without authority from the farm owner.

Escorted by personnel from the Ghana Prisons Service to the conference, the inmates explained that the grains were leftovers they harvested from an already harvested farm. The narrator indicated that they lived on moving from farm-to-farm harvesting such leftovers for survival.

The woman in her thirties said they had actually gone to the farm owner’s cottage to seek permission, while their mother took the lead, to scavenge through the farm to gather the leftovers but the farm owner was absent; stressing that they did not go there with the intention to ‘steal’ as they have been charged with.

She said they were arraigned before a court a week after their arrest and sentenced to their jail terms after all appeals fell on deaf ears. Troubling also was the revelation that they had left 11 children home in the care of “nobody.”

Narrating their ordeal in the Twi dialect through an interpreter with a cracking voice, the young widow told the conference, which had the Chief Justice, Sophia Akuffo in attendance that her lactating sibling had the opportunity to be freed if only she could cough out GH¢360.

This revelation brings into sharp focus the stark reality of the country’s sentencing regime which puts people behind bars for ‘petty’ crimes when they could have been sentenced to undertake community service.

We bet to say this may be just one of many instances of persons who may be silently languishing in prisons across the country for ‘petty’ offences.

The Ghanaian Times joins forces with the many Ghanaians who expressed outrage following the publication of the story by the paper that the quartet be pardoned. We take solace in the assurance given by her Ladyship the Chief Justice that an intervention would be made on behalf of the inmates within a week.

It is in this line that we call on stakeholders to speed up the passage of the Non-Custodial Sentencing Bill, 2018 to address some of these excesses in our sentencing jurisprudence.

The bill, if passed, would achieve a system of restorative justice process for the rehabilitation of offenders, introduce a reform for the sentencing of offenders and promote the implementation of alternative forms of sentencing.

We also call for action on the Zero Draft Bill which among other things would draw guidelines on community service orders, probation, absolute or conditional discharge, compensation, fines, pardons, forfeiture, sentencing to take account of plea agreement as well as entering into recognisance.

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