YET ANOTHER CRAZY SENTENCING IN GHANA
5/4/2012 9:12:49 PM -
I read with extreme disgust the GNA story of 4th May, 2012 relating to a sentencing at the Bibiani Circuit Court of a 24 year old Kofi Sackey, a labourer at Sefwi Wiaso in the Western region of the counrty to 5 -years imprisonment for the theft of 'g-tIde' mobile phone valued at (GHC100 ) one hundred new Ghana cedis ( Is there any old cedis as legal tender in the counrty anyway ? )
Given the circumstances of the theft, there are no evidence of aggravated features of the offending behaviour, in view of the fact that no weapon or instrument of life threatening was used in the commission of the theft,
There is information that Kofi made an early guilty plea but we are not informed as to whether the phone was retrieved or not, which if it was would have provided grounds for the mitigation of the offence.
Furthermore, there is no available information to make any conclusions that the defendant is a persistent and dangerous offender, which could have provided sufficient grounds to view him as posing significant risk to the community.
My disgust is exarcebated by what appears to be the characteristic feature of our sentencing courts and the conspiracy of silence regarding what in my view is unprofessional counduct by the courts.
l say so because clearly, Ghana's criminal justice system having been tailored on that of the British criminal justice system, appears to have failed to appreciate the meaning and purposes of sentencing.
As a reminder, the professional concept and purposes of sentecing is to provide :
PUNISHMENT- that must be commensurate to the degree or level of the seriousness of the offence, and reflects the level of significant risks the offending behaviour poses to public safety and in particular that of the views of the victim, thus appreciating the impact of the offence on the victim.
REHABILITATION- providing a framework within which the criminogenic needs of the offender and his / her offending lifestyle can be adequately addressed, so as to prevent any further offending
PREVENTION-- promote the opportunity within which working with the offender provides realistic approach to preventing the risks of re-offending
REPARATION- promote and encourage the undertaking of reparative ventures and or activities towards either the community or the victim , as dependent on risk assessment
RE-INTEGRATION/RESETTLEMENT- providing a framework of opportunity for the offender to be adequately rei-ntergrated back into his/ her community.
It is disheratening to note that sentencing in Ghana does not neccessary seem to reflect these basic fundamental ethos .
Sentencing is not to be seen to denumanise the offender, but as stated above to offer realistic prospects of prevention of any risks of re-offending and indeed all the above features as l have noted.
Sentencing is not either purported to inflict financial constraints on the national kitty or expose offenders to overcrowdiing enviroments, with it's cancer of unhygienic features, exposure to contagious health hazards and the lack of inappropriate ,irrelevant and inadequate supervision , care and support.
lndeed prison enviroments that are characterised with these negative and poor standards of life are themselves promoting an infringement on the fundamental human rights of prisoners and can be challenged in courts.
What really provokes the title of my article is the fact that the courts in Ghana lack the professional capacity to take into consideration the assessment of the needs of the offender in terms of requesting for a pre sentence reports which capture the realistic social circumstances of offenders of a kind as Kofi, as would have been the case in other jurusdictions
Furthermore, the courts have not lived to the expectations of current approaches to criminal justice delivery, more particularly in terms of minor or misdemeanor offences as on this occasion.
Current approaches which fits into the UN agenda of alternative to custodial sentencing, by promoting community sentences which seek to respond more ptragmatically and robustly to offences which do not merit custodial sentencing
l really wonder about how many of the key-players in our criminal justice system have ever sighted the UN Minimum Standard Rules on Custodial Sentencing . ?
Or how many of them have any clues , understanding, let alone appreciate the work of the PENAL REFORM INTERNATIONAL , THE iNTERNATIONAL NON-GOVERNMENTAL ORGANISATION, that aims at promoting work with offenders// prisoners in achieving the maximum purposes of sentencing ?
As at in the case of Kofi, l wonder what the sentencing judge seeks to achieve with this 'crazy' sentence, given that the financial wastage of public money on this occasion is nauseating to say the least and therefore uneccessary, in view of the real fact that the amount of NEW GHANA CEDIS to be spent on maintaing Kofi in prison all these 5 years is rediculous
What are his prospects of REHABILITATION on release after the 5 years,?
How is his risks if any of re-offending going to be addressed in prison ?
How will the needs of the victim be addressed ?
What is the level of protection that will be offered the public ?
My view is that this kind sentence does not in anyway provides the mechanism of deterrence and or adequately responding to the needs of offenders and indeed the society
As it stands, it refllects political inefficiency and wiil, professional incapacity and ignorance, given the lack of demonstrating the clear understaning and the appreciation of the neccessary PENAL POLICY REFORM, with it's potential impact on the sentencing powers of a modern court in Ghana.
Finally , may l ask the Chief Justice if Ghana has a sentencing guigelines for the courts?
For heaven's sake let sentencing in Ghana, reflects the true meaning and purposes of sentencing as the case in other jurisdictions, most particularly from the country we have been so thrilled to have copied it's crimial justice system, let sentencing meets the needs of the public, the victim and the offender , as rehabilitation is the modern trend in evidence-based and effective offender management and public protection.
By MARCUS-CHRIS LAWSON, OFFENDER MAMAGEMENT AND REHABILITATION CONSULTANT, OPERATIONS DIRECTOR OMRO.
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