Prioritize non-custodial sentences-CDD roundtable participants to government

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    Participants at a roundtable discussion, organized by the Centre for Democratic Development (CDD)-Ghana, have appealed to the government and relevant stakeholders to consider non-custodial sentencing of prisoners to reduce congestion and promote proper rehabilitation of prisoners.

    This discussion, which was organized on June 9, 2021, had selected participants and speakers drawn from the Ministry of Interior, Attorney General’s Department, Gender Ministry, Ghana Prisons Service, Police Service, POS Foundation and the clergy.

    The roundtable discussion was on the topic, “Non-custodial sentencing in Ghana’s criminal justice system”.

    Background

    Non-Custodial Sentence or Alternative Sentence refers to a punishment given by a court of law that does not involve a prison term. A non-Custodial sentence has various forms including community service order, probation order, supervision order (parole), drug testing and treatment order, etc.

    The last 15 years have seen a growing interest in the development of alternative sentences across the globe. In September 1996 the International Conference on Prison Conditions in Africa produced a declaration that recommended that community service and other non-custodial measures should be preferred to imprisonment where possible. The declaration proposed that successful African models of non-custodial measures should be studied and applied in countries where they were not yet being used. In addition, it was proposed that education be provided to the public about the objectives of alternatives and the various ways in which they work.

    In Ghana Currently, the existing laws do not make room for adequate alternative sentencing which usually results in the sentencing of minor offenders to incarceration or pre-trial detention.

    The Criminal Procedure and other Offences Act (Act 30) only outlines the following forms of punishment which include; Death, Imprisonment, Detention, Fine, Payment of Compensation and Liability to Police Supervision. This has led to severe overcrowding and congestion in almost all of Ghana’s prison facilities. A major contributing factor to this is the absence of community sentence and also a lack of codification of Article 14(4) of the Constitution.

    In 2007, the Honourable Attorney General of the time, the Hon. Joe Ghartey MP, having received several petitions from the Ghana Prisons Service on the alarming growth rate of overcrowding in the Prisons introduced the Justice for All Programme JFAP, in collaboration with the Judiciary. The JFAP which was structured as a mobile in-prison special court sitting was set up to address the issue of congestion in Ghanaian Prisons. It runs under the supervision of a High-Level Panel which includes the Heads of all the Criminal Justice Institutions in Ghana and Civil Society among others.

    It is important to mention that, there has been a very significant reduction in the Remand Population since the commencement of the JFAP, from 4,285 (33%) of a total prison population of 13,133 in 2007 to 1,473 representing 12 % of the current prison population of 13,700 as at December 26, 2017

    Regardless of the forgoing encouraging data, the convict population has not seen a reduction or any major legitimate intervention. While the number of remand prisoners is decreasing over time as a result of the relentless implementation of the JFAP, the numbers of Convict prisoners appears to be increasing.

    Assistant Director at the Ministry of Interior, Mrs Gifty Quaye mentioned in her contribution that there exist already, several non-custodial sentences in our Laws specifically Section 30 of the Criminal and other offences Act.

    Furthermore, she indicated that there ought to be a categorization of crimes that merit community service.

    She indicated the Ministry’s commitment to non-custodial sentences thus working on the non-custodial sentencing Bill.

    Officer at the legal unit of the Ghana Prisons Service, ASP Stephen Okai Aboagye, appealed to the government to focus on rehabilitating prisoners in Ghana.

    The ASP revealed that prisoners usually are overheard by officers discussing how they will commit robberies, block CCTV cameras or even attacked informants when released.

    He also mentioned that hardened criminals in prisons usually pollute minor offenders, who end up like them.

    ASP Okai Aboagye further revealed that the government spends 1.80 pesewas on each prisoner’s feeding, which is not enough. Therefore the Ghana Prison Service has to support feeding with almost 39℅ of its budget.

    The discussion was hosted by Miss Wendy Laryea, a journalist with the Media General.

    On his part, the Executive Director for POS Foundation, an NGO, indicated that the foundation went to about 8 Regions of Ghana to solicit inputs into the Community Service Bill, which is yet to go to Cabinet.

    He further indicated that the bill was handed to the Ministry of Interior last year. However, it couldn’t go through to become law, because of the General Election.

    Mr Osei Owusu hinted that his Foundation is now going to write a memo to be able to get the Bill to Cabinet.

    In justifying non-custodial sentencing over custodial, the POS Foundation Executive Director mentioned three forms of non-custodial sentences. They are community service, probation and parole.

    He mentioned that the ‘Justice for all’ programme has helped to decongest our prisons from about 39℅ to 11℅.

    Through the effort of his Foundation, he indicated that they have been able to get a 67-year-old woman who was sentenced to 11 years imprisonment, but served 5 years, released.

    He ended by charging the AG’s Department to recruit more people and resource drafting unit.

    On the rehabilitation of prisoners, ASP Stephen Okai Aboagye indicated that prisoners in Ghana just go, eat and sleep without being giving any relevant skills training.

    He however praised the Nsawam Prison and others for doing well by having shoe and T-roll factories in place for training inmates to become valuable to society.