Ghana must set national targets on prison population if it is to reduce congestion and human rights abuses in prison facilities across the country.
According to Edmund Amarkwei Foley, Head of Public Law, Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration (GIMPA), the target would also ensure that other proven and effective alternatives for correction and rehabilitation were activated to deal with petty offences.
“We must agree on the number which we will allow to be in custody at a particular time. Currently, our prisons are choked because our laws are more focused on imprisonment rather than rehabilitation. Setting a target is significant towards reducing the number of offenders who are imprisoned. It is also a means to increase the use of alternatives including community service, probation and suspended sentence among others to reduce the number of sentenced prisoners,” he advocated.
Speaking at a workshop in Accra yesterday on decriminalising petty offences in Ghana, he said imposition of sentences of imprisonment should be set aside for the most serious offences and when no other sentence was appropriate.
Organised by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), the event was to keep media practitioners abreast with the state of Ghana’s prison system and increase advocacy on decriminalising petty offences in the country.
Ghana’s custodial sentencing system, he explained, has only served as an avenue for incarceration of offenders in poor prison conditions with negative economic impact on the individual and the society and not reformation as it was purposed.
As a country noted for respect for human rights, Mr Foley said, it was time sanctions for offences in the country was focused on rehabilitating offenders and not being overly punitive.
The measure was part of guidelines and plan of action on accelerating prisons and penal reforms in Africa adopted by the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR).
For unsentenced prisoners, Mr Foley noted that the police, prison services and courts could also cooperate to ensure expedition of trials and reduce the delays of remand detention.
This, he said, could be achieved through targeting cases of vulnerable groups, regular meetings of caseload management committees including all criminal justice agents at the district, regional and national levels and making of cost orders against lawyers for unnecessary adjournments.
Increased use of cautioning, improved access to bail through widening police powers of bail and involving community representatives and setting time limits for people on remand in prison among others, Mr Foley stated, could be explored as well in reducing pre-trial prison populations.
He urged the government to implement the new sentencing guidelines captured in the Ouagadougou Prison and Penal Reform in Africa, 2012 to address issues relating to petty offences in the country.
Mina Mensah, Head of Africa Office, CHRI, said that, Ghana’s prison population could be reduced by a concerted strategy that includes review of the criminal laws and punishment administration.
He reiterated the need for government to examine best practices and assess prison cost implications in the process of reviewing Ghana’s justice system for improved prisons administration
BY CLAUDE NYARKO ADAMS