Convicts are rotten to death in Ghanaian prisons

Feature Article Convicts are rotten to death in Ghanaian prisons
JUN 16, 2022 LISTEN

I paid a visit to two prisons: a prison in Ghana and a prison in Finland. In the Ghanaian prison, convicts were packed on the bare floor like sardines. Many of them had serious skin rashes, sores and teeth decay. Most often those who die are not released to their families but are buried in mass graves.

However, prison conditions in Finland are far different from Ghana. The authorities in Finland believe that prisons must be a place of correction and not punishment. In Ghana the opposite is the case. Prisoners in Finland sleep in rooms with comfortable beds. Unlike prisoners in Ghana, the Finnish prisoners are taken to the gym to exercise their bodies. Prisoners in Ghana do not acquire any special skills while in prison. Their counterparts in Finland are taken to factories where many products including furniture are made. It is a well-known fact that the Swedish company, IKEA, which has branches in Finland and many European countries, use prisoners to produce furniture and other products. So, by the time the prisoner leaves the prison, he has acquired a skill already and can easily be employed by any furniture company.

Since 1999, there are some people whose cases had not yet been decided in court because the judges went for a brief holiday. When they returned, they completely forgot those suspects who had been remanded in custody. This unfortunate situation came to public knowledge when a concerned lawyer began an investigation on forgotten suspects in remand. The lawyer was able to count 45 people who had been in remand for 25 years! This is an unacceptable maltreatment without any reason. The lawyer worked hard for their release and also applied for compensation for them. They all had skin rashes. By the time of their release five were reported dead.

Many people are languishing in jail due to deliberate misjudgement by the court. Very often defendants who know they will lose in a case contact the presiding judge either in his office or home and pay huge bribes in order to overturn the case against the complainant. The latter who should have been the innocent one is sent to prison. It was not by accident that Ghanaians heard of the unremitting performance of Anas Aremeyaw Anas concerning secret and the vigorous detective work he did which unmasked the judges and caught several of them in the corruption net. About eight judges were dismissed for receiving bribes including large sums of money, goats, chicken, yams and plantain. What a shame!

There are two types of prisoners: there are those for hardened criminals who have committed serious crimes like armed robbery, murder, rape, printing fake currency notes. The second group are those who are completely innocent but were convicted to serve jail term due to the dishonesty of certain judges who have received bribes from the guilty ones. The sad thing is that all types of criminals are put together in the same cell. Homosexuality is common in prisons. Innocent ones who know nothing about sodomy are forced into it. Many return from prison as practising homosexuals. This does not augur well for the country.

Prison statistics from 6th June 2022 show a male majority in the prisons. Male convict prisoners stood at 12,530 while female prisoners remained at 122. Remand prisoners who are male were 1250 and females were 35. Ghana Prison Service is supposed to be a back-up to Ghana's criminal justice system. It is supposed to be an effective, humane and secure penal system governed by law. Is this effective, humane and secure penal system a reality in Ghanaian prisons?

Since 1961 Amnesty International and human right groups protested against the rot and deaths in Ghanaian. prisons. Nkrumah paid deaf ears to the plea of Amnesty International since most of those detained were political prisoners. A lot of deaths were recorded and many of them came out from the prison totally blind after Nkrumah was overthrown.

I once talked to a statistician at Birth and Death registry in Accra. What surprised him was that he had worked for eleven years as a statistician at the Birth and death registry but not a single day has any prison officer brought the list of dead prisoners to be registered. The death register in Ghana will forever remain inaccurate.

Very often very important prisoners are released before they serve their full sentence. The renowned lawyer, Mr Tsatsu Tsikata, had to be pardoned when he became very sick. Mr. Abuga Pele embezzled millions of dollars meant for specific projects in the north. He was found guilty and imprisoned but he was pardoned just last year and walked victoriously out of prison. The government must listen to Amnesty International and improve the conditions at the various prisons.

Columnist: Stephen Atta Owusu

Author: Dark Faces at Crossroads

Email: [email protected]