Our Prisons Are Crowded

Fordham Law in Peace FM Online, August 24, 2011

Media Source

MEMBERS OF the Access to Justice Project (AJP), created to address remand prisoner problems in the country have described the overcrowding and congestion of major prisons in the country as critical.

They said the acuteness of the congestion problem facing Ghanaian prisons was clearly manifested in the huddling up of so many inmates in cells originally designed to contain numbers far lower than what they were presently accommodating.

The AJP is a joint initiative of the Leitner Center for International Law and Justice at Fordham School of Law, New York, and the African Center for Development Law and Policy, Ghana.

The project which took off in 2009 was created to address the remand prisoner problems bedeviling the prisons and police cells and the criminal justice system in Ghana.

It is alleged that about a third of the Ghana’s prison population consist of remand prisoners, both those committed to stand trial and those not yet on trial.

As a result, remand prisoners are left exposed to extremely harsh and sometimes life-threatening conditions, due to poor ventilation and sanitation, sub-standard construction and poor infrastructural facilities and limited space.

Ernest Yaw Ako, an Accra-based legal practitioner and a member of the project disclosed these in an interview with DAILY GUIDE when members of the AJP visited the Sekondi Central Prisons on Monday to help alleviate overcrowding there by setting up special courts with the specific mandate to adjudicate remand prisoners’ cases.

In all, four courts, comprising two high courts and two circuit courts sat and the judges were Justices Akrowiah and Ababio for the high courts, while Justices Charles Nimako and Kwesi Boakye manned the circuit courts. The entire exercise was supervised by Justice Isaac Douse of the Court of Appeal.

He indicted that lengthy pre-trial detention remained a serious problem in Ghana and largely constituted the root of the overcrowding phenomenon.

He further noted that the project had so far recorded two successful implementations in its first two years of existence in the Ashanti and Brong Ahafo regions of Ghana as hundreds of remand prisoners regained their constitutional right to liberty and due process.

Lawyer Ako attributed the high and rampant spread of communicable diseases among inmates in Ghanaian prisons partly to the congestion and overcrowding of prison cells saying the problem had been compounded by the lack of adequate medical facilities and sub-standard treatment for inmates.

He bemoaned the excessive delays generally found in the process of putting accused persons up for trial adding that the situation leaves a lot to be desired in the provision of justice within a reasonable time as mandated by the Constitution. “Sometimes detainees serve more time in detention awaiting trial than the actual sentence for the offence charged and while on remand, prisoners are frequently held with convicted prisoners.”

He explained that the Sekondi Central Prisons was but one of the many prisons that needed urgent attention.

The project operated however with limited funding and the members were unable to cover many prisons at a time.

He hoped that in the future, more financial prospects would come up to enable the project cover many more prisons and reach out to more prisoners.

Isidore Tufuor, a law lecturer at the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration (GIMPA) Law School was the project superior. He was assisted by Chris Gabor, Emmanuel Amoah and Amos Antwi, all students of the law Faculty at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST).