INMATES at the Ho Central Prison now spend the night standing or squatting due to the congestion and lack of space in the cells.
The correctional centre which was built with a capacity of 150 is now stuck with more than 550 prisoners.
In some of the cells, the prisoners have formed two groups, with each group spending ‘sleeping night’ and ‘standing night’ in alternate order.
These came to light when members of the Ghana Bar Association (GBA) in the Volta Region, and some judges visited the prison as part of activities marking this year’s Martyrs Day.
The day is in remembrance of Mr Justice Fred Poku Sarkodee, Mrs Justice
Cecilia Koranteng-Addo and Mr Justice Kwadwo Agyei Agyepong, all Judges of the
High Court and Major Sam Acquah, a retired army officer who were picked from
their homes by armed men and savagely murdered on the night of their abduction
37 years ago.
The Volta GBA chose to pay a familiarisation visit to the prison this year, instead of the usual church services held for the martyrs.
The association donated food items worth GH¢ 30,000 to the prisoners before they were conducted round the prison.
The Deputy Director of Prison (DDP) in-charge of the Volta Region Victor Agbelengor told the visitors that the congestion situation was now overwhelming and getting out hand.
He, therefore, renewed an earlier proposal by the prison to take over the long-abandoned Border Guard Training School at Akoefe-Avenui for use as a prison settlement camp.
DDP Agbelengor said that the facility at Akoefe which was now engulfed by weeds had the capacity to take up to 600 prisoners.
Apart from that, he said that the place was ideal for agricultural and industrial activities with cheap and massive labour from the prisoners.
According to him, the proposal was sent to the owners of the facility, Ministry of Defence, with the backing of the Volta Regional Coordinating Council since July last year, “but we have still not received any response.”
The proposed facility which is four kilometres from Ho has a total size of 1, 118 acres.
It has three bedroom self-contained bungalows with garages, an administrative block of 13 offices and two ration rooms, two one-storey buildings comprising four and two bedrooms, 12 one bedroom self-contained bungalows, logistics depot and drill square among other amenities, he said.
Meanwhile, DDP Agbelengor revealed that feeding the inmates was now a serious problem as the GH¢1.80 provided by government to cater for the daily meals of each prisoner was woefully inadequate.
“So, we rely on donations from various groups and some members of the public to feed them,” he told the visitors.
DDP Agbelengor said that the acquisition of the old border guards’ training school would address not only the congestion problem, but also use the vast land for farming to feed the inmates and generate income in line with the government’s policy of Planting for Food and Jobs.
In response, Mr Michael Glover, Chairman of the Volta GBA, said that the situation was horrifying and pledged that the association would embark on the campaign to call on the government to expand the prisons to address the congestion.
Mr Glover said that a more disturbing side of the problem was that there were too many young people in prison, whose youthful exuberance was wasting in the cells.
The Supervising High Court Judge in the region, Mr Eric Baah, said that bad conditions in the prisons were never requirements to reform convicts, and emphasised that a convicted criminal only lost his right to personal freedom and not his right to personal dignity.
“After this visit, we will have a second look at the way we punish people,” he said.
At the female prison, some of the inmates complained that they were wrongly convicted.
One of them, for instance, said that she paid the fine imposed on her by the court for an offence she committed, but she was still serving time in prison.
Mr Justice Baah directed that those cases be looked into again and asked the GBA to start preparing the necessary papers on behalf of the prisoners.
FROM ALBERTO MARIO NORETTI, HO