Diseases: The high level of congestion and poor conditions in the prisons due to acute lack of resources has turned the prison environment into incubators of diseases. Research shows that communicable diseases such as tuberculosis, hepatitis B and HIV/AIDS are very prevalent in Ghana's prisons because of the above-mentioned reason. These diseases accounted for 29 of the 86 deaths recorded in all 43 inmates holding establishments in 2013. Officers, their families and the general public also are at risk of contracting these communicable diseases. Since the officers work in close contact with the inmates and live with their families in communities outside the walls of the prison, any infection contracted can easily be passed on to their families. Visitors to the prisons could also be infected with the diseases of prisoners and transmit them to the general public. Discharged inmates go back to the community and could be a source of transmission of diseases. From the above, it can be argued that prison health is a public health concern.
The challenges facing the Ghana Prisons Service as already stated are enormous and require a lot of resources to address. And the truth is we cannot only depend on the government to do it all. Taking all these into consideration, the Prisons Service Council took a proactive step and introduced “Project Efiase,” an initiative to create awareness about prison conditions and raise funds from corporate institutions and individuals to improve the conditions of prisons and transform them into reformation centres. Through this project, the Council seeks to educate the public about the current state of its prisons and to sensitise them about the importance of the Ghana Prisons Service to national development.
But why do Ghanaians need to take their Prisons Service more seriously—funding and resourcing it so it can achieve its mandate?
“A Hospital for Lawbreakers”
If we can all agree that the reformation of prisoners is the essence of the Prisons Service, then we should rather see it as a hospital where lawbreakers are taken for treatment and restored to society. If this is indeed the case, then it begs the questions – how would you want a hospital to look like? In what conditions would you want hospital patients to be treated?
Do not get me wrong. I am not saying that wrongdoers must not be punished, they should be. However, we must have the understanding that the punishment lies in curtailing their liberties and not by creating an inhabitable environment for them to live in. In the end, they would come back and live with us, so we ought to focus on getting them reformed so that they do not come out worse than they were admitted.
Let us also remember that the incarceration of lawbreakers is an intervention to protect public peace and safety. We are the beneficiaries of this system after all. This is why we must not only focus on who they are as criminals but prioritise how we can shape them during the period of incarceration. Until then, we may seem to be winning the battle, but losing the war.
We must begin to explore workable ways to resource the Prisons Service. We need to improve infrastructure and do our best to make the work of prison officials easier and more bearable.
This is why the criticisms levelled against The Church of Pentecost for putting up more of such facilities are unfounded. The construction of standard prisons, which the Church refers to as “correctional facilities,” directly or indirectly solves the challenges of congestion, poor infrastructure, and poor health conditions. Instead of the backlash, the church should be supported to do more to help deal with this infrastructure deficit. Furthermore, it depicted how little people understood the Criminal Justice System and the importance of the Prisons Service in the process – It was indeed a typical Ghanaian's way of looking at the prisons service.
“Who Watches The Watchman?”
The phrase 'Who Watches the Watchman?” has received negative connotations in recent times. However, I am borrowing this phrase to highlight the crucial role prison officials play, and why we ought to seek their welfare.
Prison officers are personnel who ensure safe custody of the persons who have been convicted for wrongdoing. They spend more time with these persons, some of whom have been convicted of murder; all so that we can enjoy our peace. Essentially, it is a high-risk job. Here is a narrative that gives you an idea of what they have to deal with from time to time:
On Wednesday, February 4, 2014, inmates at the Kumasi Central Prison allegedly set parts of the prison on fire to escape. Unfortunately for the inmates, luck ran out on them and their plans were foiled when security was immediately beefed up to prevent them from escaping. The situation turned violent with some of the inmates hurling stones and other dangerous objects at the security personnel who had immediately gathered at the prisons to maintain sanity. You can imagine the worse possible outcome had these persons succeeded in their attempt.
This is why prison officials deserve to be supported at all cost. Often when charitable groups and churches visit the prisons, the focus is always to support the inmates, forgetting that these persons are only in safe custody because of the selfless acts of the prison officials. So next time you visit any prison facility, do not just donate items to the prisoners, make donations to the officials as well and offer words of encouragement and appreciation to them for the great work they are doing, often with the little or no support.
Beyond that, let us always remember prison officials in our prayers and promote their welfare. As they watch over our prisoners, we should also watch over them through prayers and ensuring that they are always motivated to serve.
Prisoners As Human Resources
A huge chunk of our human resources can be found in the various prison facilities in the country. According to the 2018 Annual Report of the Ghana Prisons Service, the age range of 18 to 35 years constituted 80.9% of the total population of prisoners in the country. Most of these persons could be of good use to society if they are given skills training. We should stop looking at them as discards, and rather see them as human resources who can also contribute to national development. More so when we know that not all prisoners are criminals. Indeed, there have even been some cases where an inmate is proven innocent (not culpable) after years of incarceration. So anyone could end up there; and CSP Atsem concurs: “It is perhaps a truism to say that the prisons are potentially the second home for all of us as you never know when you can find yourself at the wrong side of the Law.”
Again, let us not forget that in our prison facilities are babies (with their nursing mothers), who through no fault of theirs find themselves in such environments. This is why we must approach the prison system differently and see how we can augment the government's efforts in promoting the welfare of inmates and ensuring that their potentials are tapped for the greater good.
The Church's Role in Reforming Prisoners
A multi-purpose prison facility funded and constructed by The Church of Pentecost at Ejura in the Ashanti Region was commissioned on Tuesday, May 11, 2021, and handed over to the Ghana Prisons Service.
The facility, described as one of a kind in the country, was constructed at the cost of GHS 3,297,139.81. The facility, a fully furnished three dormitory block with the capacity to accommodate 300 inmates, also comprise an administration block, a chapel (which also serves as a classroom), football pitch, baptistry, modern washrooms, mechanised borehole, offices, infirmary, workshops and other auxiliary facilities, was jointly commissioned by the Interior Minister, Hon. Ambrose Dery; the Chairman of The Church of Pentecost, Apostle Eric Nyamekye, and the Chief of Ejura, Barima Osei Hwedie II.
This was one of many facilities that the church has envisioned to set up as part of efforts to help solve some of the challenges facing the service.
BY Prince Kojo Asare