By Maxwell Nkansah
The Winneba Prison Commander, ADP Peter Afari Mintah has lamented over the poor state of prisons across the country.
According to him, the Ghana Prisons Service is the most neglected security agency in Ghana even though it plays a very important role in the delivery of justice in the country.
Speaking at a sensitization workshop for vagrants in the Effutu Municipality in the Central Region, ADP Afari Mintah, blamed the situation on the low-value Ghanaians place on the Prison sector. He added that the status quo is disappointing because this institution is critical to the development and transformation of inmates.
ADP Peter Afari Mintah lamented that, when armed policemen arrest notorious criminals they spend a maximum of 48 hours in their custody and after such people are taken to court and sentenced to 10, 15, 20 years or more, it is the weaponless prisons officers who keep such dangerous criminals until their release but when comes to matters of the prisons very few people talk for better conditions of service for prison officers and for that matter getting state of the art equipment to develop the sector.
He further stated that bad perception about prisoners generally and poor infrastructure is making prions management difficult. Even with the GHC1.80 feeding a day per prisoner, realistically, it is around GHC1.10 pesewas as the money is given to contractors who also take their profits from that amount. So if he is supposed to supply food items worth GHC1.80 at the end of the day he will be able to supply about GHC1.10.
Ghana’s prisons system is undoubtedly one of the most deplorable in Africa as majority of all the prisons in Ghana were handed over by colonial masters that were primarily not meant for humans. Meanwhile the prison inmates who are packed like sardines usually live in inhumane conditions as the prisons are overpopulated.
One of the biggest prisons in Ghana is the Nsawam Prison which is meant to house up to 700 inmates has now have over 4,000 of them living there. As a result of the shameful situation across the country, an NGO, Crime Check Foundation (CCF) in partnership with the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) have begun a sensitization programe named; Decriminalizing Vagrancy Laws And Advocacy (DVLA) to help decongest the prisons.
The project aims at educating the poor on assembly by-laws to reduce the rate at which petty offenders get jailed for breaking the laws due to their economic conditions.
It is also increasing citizens’ knowledge on the bye-laws of the MMDAs and other relevant penal codes to reduce violations, arrests, fines, and imprisonment of citizens under the laws.
When achieved, the objective will foster an enabling environment for vagrants; consisting of the homeless, street hawkers, head porters, vendors, truck pushers, market women, artisans, and other identifiable and vulnerable groups to know, claim and exercise their rights and responsibilities in Ghana.
Besides, the CCF and OSIWA are also calling on the government to put in place a non-custodial law that will allow such offenders to offer community service instead of being jailed at the expense of the taxpayer. In view of the DVLA project objectives, the Winneba Prison Commander, ADP Peter Afari Mintah welcomed the move, saying the enactment of a non-custodial law will drastically reduce the huge numbers at the prisons particularly petty offenders and suspects who are kept on remand for years.
ADP Peter Afari Mintah also commended the Crime Check Foundation saying the NGO has been very instrumental in the reintegration of ex-convicts into society. The Prison Commander further took the vagrants through the prison system in Ghana stating that they’re unfit for purpose. He, therefore, cautioned them against flouting the laws.
He also appealed to corporate bodies and philanthropists to come to the aid of the agency. The Attorney General, Godfred Dame in May this year gave an assurance that government is in the process of enacting a non-custodial sentencing law and was positive the bill will be passed into law before the current Parliament expires.
According to Attorney General there are to first have to seek policy approval for the enactment of a law and when the approval is given, we have to come back to draft it. After drafting, we have to submit it for stakeholder consultation, and that process is very long. After the stakeholder consultation, they will submit it to the cabinet.
Cabinet will then also consider the bill and changes will be made before the Attorney General forwards it to Parliament for consideration and passage. The one-year project is being rolled out in 12 metropolitan assemblies in three regions: Greater Accra, Ashanti, and Central. It has already sensitized 1200 vagrants about their rights and responsibilities to prevent any misunderstandings with the assemblies.