The non-custodial sentencing means culprits for some categories of offences will be committed to community service, rather than imprisonment as a measure to reduce congestion in the country’s prisons.
The Minister of the Interior, Mark Owen Woyongo, disclosed this on Thursday when he paid a working visit to the New Times Corporation in Accra to interact with the senior management of the Ghanaian Times.
The minister took the opportunity to explain to them some of the interventions and policies the ministry was pursuing in the administration of justice in the country and efforts at fighting crime, as well as the need for the media to uphold the virtues of professionalism to ensure national cohesion and stability.
Mr Woyongo expressed the optimism that when the non-custodial sentencing option was considered, it would go “a long way to ease the congestion” in the country’s prisons, lamenting over the deplorable state of some of the country’s prison as “a recipe for jail breaks”.
He said some culprits had been “thrown into prison” for minor offences, questioning the rationale for sentencing someone for 10 years for stealing a tuber of yam at a huge cost to the state in terms of feeding, clothing and medical care while in imprison.
The minister said able bodied offenders being detained in the prisons for minor crimes at the expense of the state, and who posed no risk or violent danger to society, could be deployed for work in the area of sanitation.
Mr Woyongo observed that some alleged criminals had been in remand for between four and five years without trial “yet we say justice delayed is justice denied”.
He said the deplorable state of some of the country’s prisons was a matter of concern to the government, adding that efforts were being made to prioritize the rehabilitation of the prison facilities and the police cells.
Sub section (4),(5) and (6) of Section 294 of the Criminal Procedure and other Offences Act,(Act 30) makes provisions for non-custodial sentences and also Section 313A provide that “a court shall pass a non-custodial sentence on pregnant woman convicted of a non-capital offence, or may suspend the sentence for such period as it may determine.”
Probation and conditional discharges are also still on the country’s statutes, and additionally Section 318(3) also provides for payment of fines by installment.
Report of a two-day non-custodial sentencing policy forum, held last year, regretted that in spite of non-custodial provisions, the sentencing policy in the country “appears to lean heavily towards imprisonment and detention,” with the resultant effect of over- population of the prisons establishment; a hundred percent beyond the prison capacity.
The report noted that the over population of the prison establishment had delirious consequences on the “prisons administration, the justice delivery system, the offender and ultimately the society in general”.
Some of the benefits of non-custodial sentencing, as noted in the report include reduction of pressure on the formal criminal justice system and the prisons with attendant cost savings to the state.
It also noted the flexible sentencing option that focuses on the circumstances of the offences and offender, with a reformative rather than retributive focus and that it promotes family preservation and social ties.
The report noted that non-custodial sentencing improves and often deep-seated sense of respect, integrity and accountability, as well as fundamental life values and a sense of community as suitable offenders do not go to prison but remain productive members of society.
It recommended the police to revisit their protocol to prevent arbitrary arrest and unnecessary detention, and to safeguard the right to liberty of all persons, and avoid abuse of the 48-hour police custody rule.
For effective non-custodial policy, the necessary state institutions should be adequately resourced for training of the required professionals for supervision of the offenders, the report recommended.
The report noted that an accurate biometric national identification system may also be necessary for the successful implementation of a wide range of non-custodial sentences, as it enables the effective monitoring of the sentence, and detection and tracking of deviant persons under non-custodial sentence.
By Salifu Abdul-Rahaman