The Ghana Prisons Service (GPS) has appealed to government to speed up the passage of the Non-Custodial Sentencing Bill into law in order to reduce congestion in the prisons across the country.
The Public Relations Officer of the GPS, Chief Courage Atsem while addressing the media on the sideline of the findings of a project dubbed ‘Decrimilising Vagrancy Laws and Advocacy in Accra, disclosed that there are currently more than 3000 excess prisoners across the country.
Even though the Attorney General, Godfred Dame during a past engagement expressed confidence this law will be enacted before the end of the 8th Parliament, Chief Atsem stated that the key Justice Sector Institutions should see the urgency in its passage.
The sad part of this problem is that most of these prisoners are minor offenders who are mixed with hardened criminals.
“The prisons have a total capacity of 9,945 but as we speak we have an inmate population of over 13,000. If you do the arithmetic you will realise that have congestion at the prisons,” Chief Courage Atsem added.
Further explaining why Ghana needs a non-custodial law, the Ghana Prisons Service PRO reiterated that “in the five new prisons the Church of Pentecost is helping us with, each will take a maximum of 300 inmates so if you put them all together we have 1,500. It means that even if we have all these prisons operating at full capacity, we will have about 2,000 excess inmates in our custody.”
“And so the campaign to introduce a non-custodial sentencing law has been on the drawing board for quite some time now and we think that it is time as a country we all put our shoulders together to bring that to life. We believe that it is one of the most lasting measures that will help the congestion problem in our prisons facilities,” Chief Courage Atsem emphasised.
Unjustified Police Swoop
Meanwhile, a human rights and crime prevention advocacy organization Crime Check Foundation (CCF) has called on the Ghana Police Service to stop its personnel from arresting and detaining jobless youths for no reason.
The Executive Director of the CCF, Ibrahim Oppong Kwarteng while presenting the findings of the ‘Decrimilising Vagrancy Laws and Advocacy project in Accra, expressed disappointment that the “police continue to organize unjustified swoops on homeless, unemployed youths” who were detained and released after some days.
He disclosed that this was a major problem in one of the project districts, the Ejisu Municipality. According to the youth who spoke to the CCF, the police, without any justifiable reason, regularly round and lock them up for days.
Mr Oppong Kwarteng who is also the Ambassador Extraordinaire of Ghana Prisons stated that these unlawful swoops contribute to the growing congestion in the prisons and also abuse the fundamental human rights of the victims.
“The police must stop as it affects social and economic lives and increases poverty and vulnerability of the poor.”
“CCF expects that as the police seek to ensure the safety of all of us, their operations must be intelligence-led to avoid human rights abuses that aggravate the economic and social lives of these poor and voiceless persons,” he added.
Lack Of Education On Assembly Bye-Laws
Besides, the project’s findings also revealed the lack of proper public education on Assembly bye-laws thereby criminalizing poverty as a lot of vagrants are unaware of the laws regulating their activities.
The Executive Director of CCF, Ibrahim Oppong Kwarteng stated that the long term effects of this problem are a potential increase in poverty not just for the affected people but the country at large.
Section 181 of the Local Governance Act, 2016 (Act 936) of the 1992 Constitution gives powers to the Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies (MMDAs) to enact bye-laws for their local jurisdictions. The laws cover licenses for business operations, sanitation, fees, offences, as well as punishments for violating any of them.
The project which sensitised more than 1,200 vagrants on their rights and responsibilities and assembly bye-laws was rolled out in 12 local government assemblies in three regions; Greater Accra, Central and Ashanti.
The DVLA project has an ultimate aim of establishing an enabling environment for vagrants and other poor persons to know, claim and exercise their rights to end the criminalization of poverty in Ghana.
The Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) funded project started in May 2021 and is expected to end in May 2022.