Ghana’s prisons choked

Justice Akuffo(middle) with Ms Tove Degnbol Denmark Ambassador, COP Kwame Agblor, Mrs Adelaide Annor (second from rigth) and Mr Sylvester Rabble, Ghana Prisons

Justice Akuffo(middle) with Ms Tove Degnbol Denmark Ambassador, COP Kwame Agblor, Mrs Adelaide Annor (second from rigth) and Mr Sylvester Rabble, Ghana Prisons

AS of yesterday, there were a total of 15,094 prisoners held in custody across the country’s prisons in excess of the authorised capacity of 9,875, the Director of Prisons at the Ghana Prisons Service, DOP Sylvester K.B. Rabbles, has revealed.

This means that the prisons are overcrowded by 5,219 representing 52.9 per cent, DOP Rabbles added.

According to him, 87 per cent of the prisoner population are convicted prisoners with the remaining 13 per cent being remand prisoners.

At a Multi-Stakeholder Conference on Non-Custodian Sentencing Policy and the Zero Draft Bill in Accra yesterday, the Prisons Service Chief said overcrowding was the most serious challenge the service was faced with in the discharge of its duties.

“This phenomenon continues to adversely impact on the management of prisons in the areas of food service, security, health care provision, bedding, education and life skills provision and sanitation among others,” DOP Rabbles lamented.

A plethora of measures including the grant of Presidential Amnesty, the Justice-For-All Programme that reviews pre-trial detention cases and the establishment of paralegal units in the Prisons to aid prisoners’ access to the law courts, DOP Rabbles said “have not helped to ease the canker of overcrowding in the prisons.”

This, he said, was not to discount the “resounding” success of the Justice-For-All Programme (JFAP) which has contributed in the reduction of the pre-trial population from 30.6 per cent in 2007 to 13 per cent in 2018.

He was hopeful the participants would focus and come out with cogent suggestions to enrich the proposed bill and settle on the agency to manage and implement the non-custodial sentencing regime.

The Chief Justice, Sophia Akuffo, on her part said some reforms in the justice delivery system have been “long overdue.”

Considering the current level of prison overcrowding coupled with a somewhat limited concern for the convict population with regard to rehabilitation and reformation, the Chief Justice said the introduction of such sentencing policy will go a long way to greatly reduce prison congestion.

“By minimising the large inflow of convicts charged with misdemeanour or petty crimes into prisons, we can also reduce the chance of recidivism as seen in other jurisdictions, particularly situations where offenders acquire worse habits in prison and come out more hardened than they were before,” she noted.

Justice Akuffo said before finalising the bill, it was important to identify or build the relevant institutions and systems for proper supervision of offenders who were given non-custodial sentences such as community service orders as well as a mechanism for periodic reporting of the compliance with sentencing orders of the court.

Jonathan Osei Owusu, the Executive Director of Perfector of Sentiments (POS) Foundation, facilitators of the Justice-For-All Programme, speaking in an interview with the Ghanaian Times on the sideline of the conference said an alternative to sentencing was needed “badly” to save remand prisoners from the psychological trauma they are subjected to when “they are accused and charged, yet justice is not dispensed for them to know their fate.”

On the theme “Consolidating Efforts to Enrich the Zero Draft Non-Custodian Sentencing Bill” the conference sought to educate stakeholders on the bill and its attendant reforms on justice delivery, take their contributions on the bill and to encourage government to work on it in earnest for passage by Parliament.

The act, among other things, is aimed at achieving a system of restorative justice processes for the rehabilitation of offenders, to introducing reforms for the sentencing of offenders, promote implementation, reduce the effect of custodian sentences on offenders and develop a means of social integration of offenders taking into account the interest of victims and the community.

BY JULIUS YAO PETETSI & ALLIA NOSHIE

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