Penal system in the Gold Coast started in an irregular manner from the early 1800s when the administration of the Forts on the coast were in the hands of a committee of merchants under the chairmanship of Captain George Maclean, who exercised criminal jurisdiction not only in the Forts but also outside them. By 1841, a form of prison had been established in the Cape Coast Castle where debtors, possibly, were incarcerated. By 1850, there were prisons in four Forts, holding a total of 129 prisoners who were kept in chains. From 1875, when the Gold Coast was formally created as a colony, British criminal jurisdiction was gradually extended to the entire southern part of present day Ghana and in 1876, the Gold Coast Prison Ordinance, modeled on the English Prisons Act of 1865, was introduced. The caretaker functions of the early prisons which consisted of mere rules for safe-keeping of prisoners were established in the 1880 Prisons Ordinance.
The unsatisfactory state of the prisons in the years that followed led to the placing of the Prisons Department under the Police Administration. In 1920, however, as a result of increased number of Prison Establishment and staff, the Police and the Prisons Departments were again separated, and the Prisons Department placed under an Inspector-General of Prisons. By 1948, there were twenty-nine(29) Establishments all over the country. On 1st January 1964, the Prisons Department became autonomous and ceased to be part of the Civil Service and renamed Ghana Prisons Service. The Ghana Prisons Service is tasked with the safe custody of convicted persons from the courts as well as the provision of reformation and rehabilitation programmes for their successful resettlement into society. Our cherished values are humanity, vigilance and fortitude.
The Service comprises forty-five (45) Prison Establishments located in all the ten regions of Ghana. At the apex is the Prisons Headquarters in Accra which also houses the offices of the Director-General of Prisons and his two deputies, five Directors of Prisons and other principal office holders. The Headquarters is the administrative nerve centre of the Service where prison policies are formulated for effective management of all prison establishments in Ghana. In addition, there are seven (7) Central Prisons, seven (7) Female Prisons, fourteen (14) Local Prisons, one Medium Security Prison at Nsawam, one Contagious Disease Prison (CDP) at Ankaful and nine (9) Agricultural Settlement Camp prisons. A new Maximum Security Prisons has been opened at Ankaful in the Central Region. In addition to these prisons are the Prisons Officers Training School (POTS) in Accra with the sole objective of catering for the internal training and human resource development of prison officers and the Accra Senior Correctional Centre (formerly called Ghana Borstal Institution) for the moral training and proper socio-religious development of juvenile offenders.