Stakeholders at a roundtable on the need for Ghana to consider non-custodial sentences in cases of misdemeanour have called on Parliament to pass the Community Service Bill (non-custodial law) to help decongest the prisons and make them more effective.
They also appealed to the Ministry of the Interior to exert pressure on Parliament for the passage.
Referring to the Ghanaian Judicial System, they said it was empowered with custodial sentences: probation, parole and restricted non-custodial sentence such as fine, thus the need for the law to be passed.
Ghana should also implement the Tokyo Rules it is signatory to, which had broad non-custodial sentences it could choose from, they said.
Mr Jonathan Osei Owusu, the Facilitator for “Justice For All,” at the roundtable, organised by the Centre for Democratic Development (CDD), said Ghana should not wait any longer but try the system, learn and perfect it.
He said the justice system should be retributive whereby the offender would reform and victims would forgive, citing restitution, among others, which were found in the Tokyo Rules under the non-custodial sentences.
There should be enough public education to avoid stigmatisation where citizens would be encouraged to get on board to help reintegrate ex-convicts, he said.
Mr Owusu said keeping the inmates whereby the place was already congested was a drain on the country’s budget and, therefore, proposed that non-custodial sentences should be considered in terms of misdemeanour (offences which attract sentences less than three years).
Assistant Superintendent of Prisons (ASP) Stephen Okai Aboagye, at the Legal Unit, Ghana Prisons Service, disclosed that Ghanaian prisons had an excess of 3,247 inmates, thus the need to decongest them.
“As a result, convicts with different crime magnitudes were put together making the less hardened more hardened after serving their terms,” he said.
ASP Aboagye said that negated the purpose for keeping the inmates, which were for reformation, rehabilitation and proper reintegration, resulting in recidivism.
He explained that out of the 13,192 inmates, 1,554 were on remand whilst 11,638 had been convicted.
Apostle Lawrence Otu Nyarko, the Finance and Administration Director, Church of Pentecost, said when one committed an offence, the community should benefit from the punishment given.
He, therefore, suggested community service, including sweeping and planting of trees, while the convicts reported to the police till the term ended.
He said that practice, when adopted, would be humiliating enough to deter others from committing crimes.
Mrs Ameley Dankwa Agyeman from the Office of the Attorney General said judges must be encouraged to consider non-custodial sentences.
Madam Gifty Quaye, Assistant Director, Ministry of the Interior, said it was the Ministry’s priority to pass the Non-Custodial Bill, related to the Criminal Offence Act.
She said government was financially constrained, hence the delay.