In recent months conditions in our prisons have become a matter of public debate. Journalists have come up with a number of revealing documentaries about the state of our prisons. The Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) has also published a number of reports about the poor state of the prisons but no significant progress has been made over the years. It has to be recalled that in 2013, the United Nation’s Rapporteur on the question of torture, visited Ghana and came up with very unfavourable accounts of our prisons.
The Council is very much concerned with these developments because it is often said that a country’s civilization is measured by the way it treats its vulnerable.
The Prisons in Ghana, largely a heritage
of the colonial penal administration
of the 18th and the 19th centuries, have
structures inherited from the British
administration which were mostly Forts
and Castles along the coast and warehouses
in the hinterlands. Policies and
programmes of the Service were tailored
alongside the English Penal System but
over the years it has not been able to keep
pace with the enormous transformation
that has gone on in the English system
after Ghana’s independence.
Under section 1 of NRCD 46 it is the duty of the Prisons Service to ensure “the safe custody and welfare of prisoners and whenever practicable to undertake the reformation and rehabilitation of prisoners” In pursuance of its reformative and rehabilitative objective, the prisons service has treatment programmes designed to inculcate moral and social values in prisoners. There are group of individual counselling therapy programmes. Inconformity with section 40 of the Prisons Service Act, NRCD 46, of 1972 inmates are free to practise religion and their spiritual well-being is catered for by the chaplaincy department and visiting priests, imams and religious group. Several persons have been converted to God while in prison. As required by section 41 of the Prisons Service Act, NRCD 46the Service runs formal and non-formaleducation in the prisons to assist inmates.
There are also programmes for vocational training. Young offenders are encouraged to continue with their education or sit for the National Vocational Training Institute (NVTI) trade tests. Among vocations in which inmates are trained are carpentry, Masonry, tailoring, auto-mechanics for males; and dressmaking, baking and hairdressing for females. There are prisons farms where inmates may learn agricultural skills.
However, life in prisons is not as cosy. A sentence of imprisonment is with hard labour unless in the case of a sentence of less than three years, the courts otherwise directs. The prisons now require huge investment into its operations to make them reformative, humane and productive to meet the aspirations of the country.
The general infrastructure of the prisons in this country is simply not the best. The prisons lack adequate space leading to severe overcrowding and hygiene issues. The structures are not suitable for rehabilitation and reformation. Lack of natural light and fresh air are characteristic features of most of the prisons because about 80% of the prisons were not purpose built. Again, the excessive pressure brought to bear on the existing structures have made it impossible for any meaningful classification of inmates as per the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, leading to the worrying situation where remands and convicts are mixed up in virtually all the walled prisons in Ghana.
Prisons Regulation 134 (1) enjoins the Prison Service to ensure that a medical officer shall, if necessary attend to the Prison daily and shall see any sick prisoner at least once a day. This shows how important the issue of medical care is when it comes to the administration and management of prisoners. The Service is presently faced with serious difficulties in providing healthcare Services for both officers and inmates. This is an area which requires urgent intervention if the Service is to operate efficiently.
The existing healthcare facilities in our prisons are far below the minimum standards for even the country let alone meeting international standards for keeping offenders. The few infirmaries in our prisons are not adequately equipped to offer the essential health care support to inmates as they lack the requisite medical equipment and personnel to provide basic first aid to inmates before they are finally referred to the hospitals Apart from the HIV/AIDS control programmes which are partly supported by the Ghana AIDS Commission, health care in the Service is isolated from the general health care system under the Ministry of Health because prison health issues are under the Ministry of the Interior and not the Ghana Health Service as the case should have been, thus hampering the quality of health care and continuum of care following release.
Worst of all, the Service lacks the needed funds to pay for the renewal of the National Health Insurance premium of both officers and inmates to enable them access quality healthcare Services at the general hospitals. The existing credit arrangement could not help as health institutions continue to withdraw and keep threatening to withdraw their Services to sick inmates because of unpaid bills. Our infirmaries and prisons at large lack the basic toiletries like soap and disinfectants to promote basic hygiene let alone drugs. Bed bugs have taken over most of the prisons as fumigations could not be done regularly leading to poor state of affairs that greatly affects the inmates as well as officers and their dependants.
The situation on the ground is very
grim and further aggravates the suffering
inherent in incarceration. When one
prisoner is admitted into the hospital, at
least three officers would have to provide
a 24hour guard duty. To this end,
over 500 of our officers virtually perform
hospital duties daily across the country
which is a heavy toll on the security of the
prison amid the dwindling staff strength.
It is however regrettable to know that
the Service cannot boast of a single medical
officer in the Service to take care of
the over 15, 000 prisoners in our custody
who are held in the 43 Prison establishments
spread across the country. The
quality of Health care professionals that
we have in the Service is also not the best
since majority are health aids with a few
nurses and a handful of medical assistants.
These few health professionals man our infirmaries and give first Aid to sick prisoners and refer serious cases to the government hospitals.