Prisons have become a modern-day feature as institutions for the confinement of persons who have been remanded in custody by a judicial authority or others who have been convicted for a crime and as such should serve prison terms or sentences.
Imprisonment has come to be accepted for various reasons. It is to deter those who would otherwise commit crimes and also make it less likely for prisoners to have the desire to commit crimes after their release.
It is also meant to make those who have committed serious crimes to pay for their misdeeds. Besides, while it encourages the personal reform of those who are sent to prison, it is necessary to protect the public from those who commit crimes, particularly those who do so persistently.
The present-day prison system followed a 16th century system where a number of houses of correction were established in Europe for the rehabilitation of minor offenders and vagrants. That system emphasised strict discipline and hard labour.
After some time during the century, imprisonment came to be accepted as an appropriate method of punishing convicted criminals.
The idea was that the prison system would deter crime but that has not materialised as criminal activities and the number of criminals keep increasing on daily basis.
As a result, prisons across the globe keep taking in more suspects, remand prisoners and convicted/jailed criminals than the prisons can accommodate.
Also, the non-application of the capital punishment worsens the growth of prison populations as most of the people on the death roll have their sentences commuted to life imprisonment.
In fact, in Ghana, for example, some people have been on remand for years for flimsy excuses like the fact that the detectives or investigators are on transfer or have either refused or forgotten to pursue the cases.
The overcrowding in the prison causes poor sanitation and widespread diseases among prisoners and Ghana, some inmates have contracted COVID-19. It also causes under-feeding of the prisoners as the prison authorities are given paltry sums to feed them.
The whole situation also means that the human rights of the inmates have been curtailed or trampled upon, especially those whose cases have been abandoned.
In the circumstances, reform measures should be taken and in Ghana the Justice For All Programme (JFAP) is one measure aimed at ensuring justice for prison inmates who deserve it and thereby get the serendipitous gain of easing congestion in the prisons.
The JFAP was organised by the POS Foundation in 2007 is operated through special in-prison court sittings to adjudicate cases of prisoners on remand.
Theachievementof the JFAP so far is that a total of 839 remand prisoners across the country had been discharged as of January 2020.
Additionally 1,596 out of the total number of 4,512 inmates who had appeared before the court had been granted bail, with 180 convicted and 28 referred to psychiatric hospitals.
The latest sitting under the JFAP involved the Akuse Prison, which was done virtually on Tuesday, where out of nine inmates, five were granted bail, one bail application refused, another declined on ground of jurisdiction and two other cases adjourned indefinitely due to various reasons.
The Presiding Judge in Monday’s sitting admonished investigators in criminal cases to “be proactive in their work and not leave the vulnerable remand inmates to languish in jail for months and years under the cover of COVID-19.”
The JFAP is a laudable system and while we commend its initiators, we humbly appeal that more of the sittings be organised at short intervals.
Also, the problem of investigators abandoning cases with no good reason(s) must be addressed.