WHAT LESSONS GHANA CAN LEARN FROM '' THE BUZZ AROUND JAMAICA'S PRISONS ?
12/28/2011 9:56:10 PM -
There is all the research evidence to the effect that specific penal policy determines the outcomes, the nature and character of offender management either in the community and or in custody.
Modern penal policy hinges around the concept of rehabilitation, re-integration and re-settlement of the offender back into his /her community, a direction most jurisdictions which value democracy, freedom and justice are driving towards
Punishment is seen as a framework within which the offender is assisted, supported and empowered to take responsibility for their crimes committed against individuals/community.
The rationale is to equip the offender with those skills and knowledge required to turn a new leaf, develop appropriate cognitive expertise in assisting him/her develop a sense of responsibility towards community /public safety and victim empathy.
Thus, punishment is no longer to be seen as 'fitting the crime' rather than demonstrating a restorative and rehabilitative ethos.
Ghana's criminal justice system, which was fashioned on that of the UK system, shamefully still operates a 'shoe-string' approach to justice administration and delivery, one that has failed to open itself to modern penal policy and practice, which acknowledges and values the rehabilitative and reparative features of punishment
To date, my several calls for Ghana to respond to the agenda of the UN minimum standards measurement for the treatment of prisoners and that of the Penal Reform International prison reforms globally, has met with what in the least can be described as luke-warm ,ignorance and professional arrogance.
This may explain why the draft sentencing guidelines for which l provided consultancy services has since April 2010,been left to gather dust at the ministry of justice.
A unique opportunity to transform the country's criminal justice administration landscape and welcome the alternative to custodial sentencing , with its'attendant community sentences including community service.
As it is Ghana presents stucked and comfortable with a criminal procedure code that has only fines and custody as the only court disposals , particularly in the adult courts,given the magistarte courts, which has responsibility for juvenile offenders, have a somewhat different disposal mechanism which features a resemblance of community sentence - probation disposal option.
The description of '' a resemblance of a probation disposal option'' is an apt position, given that the order is not accompanied with any programmes of intervention that can confront , challenge and assist the young offender take responsibility for his/her offending behaviour and address them, as pertains in other jurisdictions.
In general it is these failures or inadequacies of Ghana's criminal justice system, which amongst other reasons is responsible for the over crowding of our prison estates.
A phenomenon , which in my assessment has made it rather impossible to provide the framework of relevant,appropraite and adequate rehabilitation of those offenders sentenced to custody.
Effectively, offenders tended to be released following sentence completion back into their communities, without learning anything positively new , in terms of trade skills to meet with the challenges of community life.
The only lesson that may have been learnt will be the much more sophisticated and daring techniques of criminal behaviour, given the exposure and the association to much more hardened and die-hard criminals.
In this vein, re-integration and resettlement becomes a real task and a challenge,a situation which will explain the high rate of recidivism of ex-offenders.
It is this dilema of rehabilitation, reintegration and resettlement that the ''buzz around Jamaica's prisons has evoked, worthy of re-visiting and re-thinking.
The Jamaica's success story is captured in the UK magazine for the Ministry of Justice ''INSIGHT'' published in November this year (2011)
The Ministry of Justice is well reported as providing expertise to the Jamaican Government to help it improve its prison and probation services in bid to give practical meaning for ex-offenders reintegration back into community life.
The' buzz' is that at a correctional institution on Jamaica's north coast, young offenders are being provided with the scope of learning how to keep bees, a skill that may help their employability on completion of sentence and release into the community.
Clearly, these young offenders are being empowered to develop care and compassion, aspects of their personalities that might have stayed hidden.
There is also the account of the New Broughton Prison, om Jamaica's south coast, where adult prisoners are being equipped with the practical skills and the knowledge of rearing poultry, which can assist these prisoners earn reasonable living and feed their families , as they reintegrate and resettle in their communities.
Clearly, these projects are significant rehabilitation and reintegration strategies which represent a collaboration between the UK Ministry of Justice International Directorate and Jamaica's correctional estate and other stakeholders.
The realism is Jamaica has taken the bull by the horn in terms of the quest to modernise its prisons and the probation service.
This it has done by taking those pragmatic steps in improving the prospects of the offender, by providing trade skills training-hair and beauty, weilding, tailoring, carpentry and joinery etc, as a mechanism of promoting their rehabilitation ,reintegration and resettlement.
The progress being made is summed up in the comments of one of the prison officers'' training for prison and probation staff has also improved...staff have learned techniques for helping offenders change their behaviour, and now have a much more humane approach to prisoners, based on human rights''
May be the time has come for Ghana to take a leaf from'' the buzz around Jamaica's prisons'', by taking on board my call to liaise with the Penal Reform International (PRI), just as other Afican countries like Zimbabwe, Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi, Niger, Mali,Bourkina Faso, Egypt etc have done and most recently what Liberia has undertaken.
I really will not appraeciate what may still hold Ghana back to follow the foot steps of the countries afore-mentioned and in particular on this occasion Jamaica , liaise with the International Directorate of the UK 's Ministry of Justice and formally request their assistance, support and guidance, in rethinking its' criminal justice system, bringing it at par with the tenets of the democractic values we seem to embrace , values that acknowledge the fundamental human rights of prisoners, in terms of the rehabilitation, reintegration and resettlement , of those who find themselves in conflict with the laws of the society, and in line with the United Nations Minimum Measures for the treatment of prisoners.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR.
Marcus-Chris Lawson,who is a strong advocate for penal reform, is an offender management and rehabilitation consultant, and the Operations Director of the Ghanaian NGO offender management and rehabilitation organisation ( OMRO ) .
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