Fordham Law

Leitner Center Helps Prisoners in Ghana Regain Freedom

September 03, 2009

The Leitner Center’s Access to Justice Project has helped Ghana’s courts make substantial progress in releasing remanded prisoners. The project, supervised by Professor Paolo Galizzi and Levinson Fellow Alena Herklotz, was created to address the problem of people being held in Ghana for long periods of time pending trial without bail or charge--a violation of both domestic and international law. Working under the project's aegis, Fordham Law students have helped these individuals--some of whom have been remanded in prison for eight years--to have their cases expedited or bail granted.

To implement the project, Fordham Law students Sarah Bravin '11, Robert Cornwell '11, Jesse Loper '10, and Emily Wei '10 traveled to Ghana over the summer and worked with four students from Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), Charles Acheampong, Nana Asante, Osei Barimah, and Linda Mensah, as well as KNUST clinical supervisor Ernest K. Abotsi. In the first phase, the students interviewed prisoners at Kumasi Central Prison, where they created case files for remanded prisoners and determined which prisoners should not be in custody. One of the major challenges to remanded prisoners was the lack of a computerized filing system at the prison to keep track of pre-detention and court dates. To address this problem, the Leitner Center donated two computers to the prison and helped update and organize the prison’s filing system. 

The project also worked closely with Ghana’s Judicial Service and its Attorney General, Betty Mould-Iddrisu, who granted the project the authority to try deserving prisoners. Her Ladyship the Chief Justice of Ghana, Georgina T. Wood, set up a special court in which she appointed two judges to hear the cases of people remanded at the Kumasi prison. Mr. Abotsi worked with members of the project in representing the prisoners.

Twenty-year-old Patricia Akua Manso, who had been held in remand for five years with adult prisoners, was released through the help of the program.  Ms. Manso was originally arrested when she was fifteen because she allegedly concealed information from the police after she witnessed her uncle sexually assault a minor. An emotional Ms. Manso shed tears after Mr. Abotsi helped her secure an unconditional bail. 

The project was also able to help secure Kweku Aboagye, who is mentally retarded, transfer into a proper facility. Mr. Aboagye, who had been held in prison on remand since 2002 for attempted armed robbery, was granted an unconditional bail. He was then transferred to Ankafu Mental Hospital where he received the care he needed. 

In a civil case against Afua Owusuaa, who had defaulted on a loan and had been held without bail or a full hearing for five months, the project helped schedule a hearing where bail and a trial date were set. The judge at the hearing also ordered the Circuit Court judge who originally had Ms. Owusuaa remanded to provide for her bail and, before her follow-up court date, to explain why Ms Owusuaa had initially been remanded at all.

Patricia Yeboah was incarcerated on charges of conspiracy to armed robbery and placed in remand in February 2009. Ms. Yeboah was charged because she had boarded a taxi whose driver was wanted for robbing a mobile phone. Even though she claimed she had nothing to do with the alleged robbery, Ms. Yeboah was arrested with the driver and had been imprisoned without charge or bail. The taxi driver, who had already been sentenced, also confirmed Ms. Yeboah’s story. The project helped Ms. Yeboah get a bail set and was then able to get a judge to set a final court date and allow her release with an unconditional bail.

The Access to Justice Project, started in January 2009, provides Fordham Law students with valuable training and experience in pro bono work. The project was developed as part of Fordham Law's International Sustainable Development clinic, which focuses on developing and implementing projects that fight poverty, child mortality, HIV/AIDS, human rights abuse, and promotes justice.