Reforming our prisons
It is official! Prisons in Ghana are not fit for human habitation. This fact has been drummed home over the years without any reform in conditions. On Tuesday, Amnesty International, the London-based human rights organisation with branches throughout the globe, issued a report on the condition of Ghana Prisons, after a study that took on board five of the nation’s leading reform centres.
The researchers found conditions at the Nsawam, Kumasi, Tamale, Sunyani and Sekondi prisons very appalling, indicating that prisoners are fighting against very serious odds to remain sane. “These conditions include inadequate infrastructure and sanitation, insufficient food and healthcare, and alarming number of remands,” who have remained incarcerated for a number of years without trial.
According to the research, there are as many as 3,000 people on remand. “Some of them have been there for years without ever realising what their crime was.”
In a country where the law stipulates that no one could be held for more than 48 hours without trial, the condition of the large remand prisoners without any effort at remedying their situation, is not the very best.
The 3,000 remand prisoners alone constitute overcrowding. The Chronicle recommends a system of releasing remand prisoners, if the state could not charge them and put them on proper trial. It is an abuse of the people’s fundamental human rights. It would also help to decongest our prisons and make them a bit more habitable.
Prisons, no doubt, are meant for reform. The walls are not deliberately put up to cage innocent people. They are meant to keep wrongdoers who are supposed to go through a system of reform. Regrettably, it looks like there is more element of punishment in putting people in prison than getting them to reform in our part of the world.
The researchers were not amused with the overcrowding and lack of proper care in prison. “It is unacceptable to lock up prisoners for 12 hours a day, 365 days a year in cells intended to hold half, a third, or a quarter of the numbers actually squeezed into dark, poorly ventilated and unhygienic spaces,” according to the report.
Conditions in our prisons have been a matter of concern for some time. In a number of cases, public-spirited persons and institutions have tried to bring some sunshine into the lives of our prisoners by donating all manner of items to keep body and soul together. Obviously, that has not been enough to make prison life meaningful.
We are inviting the state to do its part. We believe the state could begin by ordering that those on remand, many of whose case files could not even be found, be released.
We would like to believe that a system of community service, instead of custodial sentences for lesser offences, would also help to reduce the population. The prison, as we stated earlier, is meant for reform. We can all do our part to ensure that those behind bars are not treated as being sub-human.
Before giving the vote, we would like to believe prisoners would cherish some form of comfort. Let us reform the prisons before thinking of making inmates vote in national elections. The Chronicle is in no doubt that prisoners would welcome some form of comfort over the right to vote.
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