Overcrowding and congestion of major prisons in Ghana is critical. It is urgent to take a look at the challenges confronting prisoners, remand inmates and proffer remedy.

I believe all men are born equal and are endowed by their creator with inalienable rights. Every human being has a right to enjoy liberty and the pursuit of happiness. When governments provide basic amenities and the right environment such that citizens enjoy quality education, good health systems, economic empowerment and equal opportunities, then they can fall on their ingenuity and become innovative and utilize the nation’s resources very well to the benefit of all. The case for Ghana is rather an unfortunate one because of misplaced priorities.

The major cause of overcrowding in prisons is the remand system. Remand inmates outnumber sentenced prisoners and majority of them even spend longer periods in prison.

It appears prisoners are no longer a part of society. The prisons are not adequately resourced making life extremely difficult for inmates. Prisoners are locked away to undergo reformation so that they can fit well into society after serving their term.  When conditions in the prisons are not conducive, how would they receive the proper training so that they become beneficial to society?

One major challenge confronting Ghana Prisons Service is overcrowding. Most prisons are accommodating numbers that have exceeded their thresholds. The Tamale Central Prisons which is believed to have been established in 1914 with an initial capacity of 78 is currently housing over 300 inmates. The problem has been worsened by the rather huge number of remand prisoners pending trial.

Ghana prison service is proposing separation of remand inmates from convicted prisoners in a bid to decongest the prisons.

Apart from a few modern prisons, most prisons which were constructed during the colonial times have not been expanded or refurbished. Human rights advocates are worried about the poor conditions of inmates. Human Rights Lawyer Martin Kpebu says government is obliged by law to separate remand inmates from convict prisoners. ‘’That is what the constitution required; that they should be separated. We are always making that argument that there are no resources…we are rather not setting our priorities right.

The scope of sentencing is quite narrow. Sentencings available are fines, conditional discharge, imprisonment and death. Community service orders are non-existent. Remission of sentences, presidential pardons and amnesties are not adequate to decongest the prisons. Bail terms are sometimes prohibitive and high-priced to the extent that the accused are unable to meet the conditions particularly when sureties are to be justified.”

Lawyer Julio De Medeilos is leading the debate for an amendment of criminal procedure and juvenile justice act to make a way for community sentencing. He said “Judges are in a hurry to give custodian sentences rather than looking at the other options that are available to us. So we would want amendment of Criminal Procedure and Juvenile Justice Act to include community kind of sentencing’’.

From the scenario, it is evident that alternative sanctions to imprisonment be introduced, shifting from custodian to correctional sentencing to decongest the prisons. Former Director-General of Ghana Prison Service, Emmanuel Adjator, said the service is shifting focus from custodian sentencing to reformation and rehabilitation.

‘’Right now the prison service is moving from custodian sentencing to reformation and rehabilitation and it is part of the reformation process to let people pursue distance education to improve themselves so that by the time they complete their jail terms, they will be able to integrate into society and contribute to national development’’.

Not all but also another challenge the prison has to grapple with is that most workshops for the rehabilitation and reformation of prisoners are in a deplorable state and need to be refurbished. Equipment and tools are not only inadequate but are also obsolete and should be replaced with new ones. Deputy Minister of Housing and Water Resources, Freda Prempeh proposed the way forward. She said “It has been a challenge and I hope going to Works and Housing Ministry, I believe I will put in a word for Ghana Prison Service and see how we can go in for Public Private Partnership and re-develop some of our houses’’. 

Aside this, abuse of human rights and misapplication of the law cannot be swept under the carpet. Listen to an inmate at Nsawam prisons who wants an officer punished for assaulting another inmate who went into coma. His crime was using a mobile phone in cell. He said, “there is one inmate in our prison called Emmanuel Oduro. An officer slapped the guy and the guy has fainted, he was having a phone and the officer asked the guy to bring the phone and after collecting the phone he slapped him. The guy is an asthmatic patient’’.

Education of Prisoners cannot be left in oblivion. Funds are needed to procure teaching and learning materials for prisoners, libraries need to be equipped with relevant textbooks to meet the needs of inmates. Computers and their accessories are needed for the various ICT laboratories to make ICT learning available to interested inmates. But, the prisons service is helpless and rather proposing distance learning to the prisons. He said “We are in talks with University of Ghana, Cape Coast and Winneba to extend their service to the prison service to enable prisoners continue their education. We haven’t started yet but very soon we will have distance learning’’.   

One thing is clear! Some prisons are in a deplorable state and would require funding for rehabilitation. Perhaps, the public can partner the Prisons Service in creating a conducive environment for officers, prisoners and inmates. Deputy Minister of Works and Housing Freda Prempeh is pushing for Public Private Partnership arrangement to improve accommodation.

Central to this discourse, it is reasonable to say, if prisoners are offered opportunities and are properly trained, they can make significant contributions to national development after serving their terms of imprisonment. It is against this background that all hands should be on the deck to address problems at the prisons.

 Jerry Akornor,

 Broadcast Journalist,

Class 91.3FM (CMG) Ghana.

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