NEWS COMMENTARY ON THE NEED TO DECONGEST THE NATION’S PRISONS AND ADVOCATES NON-CUSTODIAL SENTENCING
Most of Ghana’s prisons have been built decades ago. They were constructed for few prisoners but with population growth and increase in crimes, the prisons have been overstretched. The nation’s home for criminals are overcrowded, they lack basic facilities while the prisoners receive merger feeding fees among others. In view of these challenges, it is important for the state to device strategic means of decongesting the prisons and making them a little conducive for human habitation. The unfortunate thing is that some of the prisoners have been on remand for years without been properly convicted. Some of these citizens who are sometimes found to be innocent only languish in jail for nothing. Their skills and abilities which they could have used to develop their communities and the country as a whole are locked up while they rot away physically and psychologically. The system doesn’t provide real and adequate result-oriented reformation programmes that build up the convicts to come back to society and contribute meaningfully towards development. Many have suggested the overhaul of the sentencing regime of the judicial system and shift towards a more modern and pragmatic system where custodial sentencing will be reserved for hardened criminals and people who commit very grievous crimes. It is in light of this that some watchers of the judicial space continue to advocate the introduction of community service and other non-custodial sentencing. To the advocates of this type of sentencing, our communities need people to desilt gutters, weed bushy areas and undertake other services. When convicts are handed such sentences they will not depend on the state to feed them and provide prison services to them. This way the state will save money and also get the convicts to render services which our local Assemblies have beeing paying for.
Also, the nation will not have to take care of the health needs of such convicts. They can equally be deployed to state project sites like farms to render services as their punishment. It is vital to commend Non-Governmental Organisations and individuals who continue to support prisoners and advocate reforms in one way or the other. In this vein, we commend the Best Court and Crime Journalist of the year Ibrahim Oppong Kwarteng of the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation who was honoured by the Ghana Journalists Association at the 24th GJA Awards. Ibrahim has over the years demonstrated his love for prisoners through his journalistic works with his Crime Check programme. What is intriguing about Ibrahim’s work is that he just does not tell stories about prisoners and the need for reforms, he goes beyond by assisting prisoners and those who have been released through the benevolence of some philanthropists. This practice is indeed developmental journalism and must be encouraged. While encouraging reforms in the judicial system we urge the Chief Justice and the Judicial Service to enhance the Justice For All Programme and take steps to introduce non-custodial sentencing to help address overcrowding and its associated challenges in our prisons.
BY ALHAJI ALHASAN ABDULAI, A JOURNALIST AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF EANFOWORLD.