The Chief Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the Ghana Prisons Service, Chief Supt Courage Atsem, has reiterated the need for the government to ensure that appropriate legislation or Constitutional Instrument is passed to make probation and parole non-custodial sentences to deserving prisoners.
That, according to him, would go a long way to reduce congestion in prisons and also minimize the inflow of convicts charged with misdemeanor or petty crimes.
Non-custodial sentencing refers to a punishment given by a court of law that does not involve a prison term.
It has various forms, including community service, probation, supervision, drug testing and treatment orders, among others.
In the country now, existing laws do not make room for adequate alternative sentencing, which usually results in the sentencing of minor offenders to incarceration or pre-trial detention.
The Criminal Procedure and Other Offences Act (Act 30) only outlines the following forms of punishment: death, imprisonment, detention, fine, payment of compensation and liability to police supervision.
This has led to severe overcrowding and congestion in almost all prison facilities across the country.
However, Mr. Atsem, who spoke to the Daily Graphic in an interview in Accra yesterday, said the Prison Administration was engaging the government on a possible review of the law, which he said had been positive.
“I am quite sure of the stage the discussion has reached. And during the vetting of the sector minister, he made it clear that non-custodial sentencing was something they were considering, so I believe that the government is giving it the needed attention,” he added.
Mr. Atsem said the highest offence in the records of the GPS was stealing, constituting about 38.13 per cent of the total number of offenders in prisons, followed by unlawful entry, which is 8.49 per cent.
Under the law, he said, stealing was considered a minor offence, adding that with the institutionalization of non-custodial sentencing, majority of such culprits would be out of prison, which he said would help address the congestion situation in the prisons.
“Looking at some of the offences, I think we are wasting our time keeping such people in prison custody. For instance, if somebody goes to steal a bunch of plantain, he or she is put behind bars, while such persons could be made to perform some community service to help society,” the PRO said.
He added that “this will even go a long way to reduce crime because once people see them perform such services, it will deter them from also engaging in such crimes”.
Aside from the congestion in the prisons, Mr. Atsem said, the situation also affected budgetary allocation to the GPS because money provided by the government had to be managed to cater for the inmates.
He described as inadequate the budget allocated to the GPS, considering the fact that it included funds for the feeding of the inmates.