Deputy Majority Leader in Parliament, Alexander Kwamena Afenyo-Markin, has urged the House to amend or delete clauses in the yet-to-be-passed anti-gay Bill that recommends custodial sentencing as the sole punishment for those found to be involved in or supporting LGBTQ+.
He proposed that the House opts for plea bargains and alternate forms of punishment, rather than jail, explaining that the country's prisons are already overcrowded. According to him, the prisons have no significant, real reformation facilities for offenders.
Parliament is considering passing the Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill, popularly known as the anti-gay bill, which intends to criminalise all forms of LGBTQ+ activities and promotion.
The House approved clauses in the Bill last Thursday which prescribe a jail term of at least six months and up to three years for people who participate in same-sex acts, as well as a jail term of three to five years for those found to be active in LGBTQ+ activism.
However, Mr. Afenyo-Markin, who represents the Effutu Constituency, has stated that the Bill’s incarceration provisions will be unproductive and worsen inmates’ conditions, given the current state of Ghana’s prisons.
He made his position clear during the plenary when the subject came up last week, and he issued a white paper over the weekend to back up his call for non-custodial punishment of LGBTQ+ people and campaigners.
According to the MP, in addition to the fact that imprisoning LGBTQ+ advocates violates international human rights, it may result in significant international condemnation and have negative impacts on diplomatic relations and economic aid.
Statistics show that prisons are already 48% overcrowded, and stakeholders are even advocating for a non-custodial sentencing bill.
“Ghana’s prisons, grappling with extreme overcrowding, have become a focal point for human rights advocates, legal professionals, and the government,” he argued.
Mr. Afenyo-Markin said the nation’s prison system is currently facing a dire situation, with its facilities overflowing beyond capacity.
“The total prison population has reached a staggering 15,237, comprising 15,062 males and 175 females, far exceeding the intended capacity of 10,265 (as of July, 2023),” he asserted.
“This overpopulation, amounting to a 48% congestion rate, is having severe repercussions on the health and living conditions of the inmates. The Attorney General, Godfred Dame, has underscored the urgency of this situation, advocating for legislative intervention,” the MP stated.
“The Ghana Prisons Service, in advocating for non-custodial sentencing, underscores its significance, especially due to the slow progress in enacting the Non-Custodial Sentencing Bill,” Afenyo-Markin he added.
He continued, “Custodial sentences could increase stigmatisation and discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals, leading to social ostracisation and mental health issues.
“Incarcerating individuals for same-sex sexual relationships would entail substantial economic costs, diverting resources from other essential areas,” he said.
MP Afenyo-Markin suggested non-custodial sentences for same-sex sexual relationships would better align with international human rights norms and reduce potential international backlash.
He also suggested community sentences with focus on rehabilitation and education as this could foster understanding of sexual diversity and promote tolerance.
The Deputy Majority Leader said incorporating plea bargain into the legal framework for handling same-sex sexual relationship cases would offer a flexible and humane approach, allowing for case-by-case assessment.
Afenyo-Markin argued further, “Choosing non-custodial punishments and structured plea bargaining provides a more humanitarian, financially sustainable, and globally acceptable legal system that is in line with international human rights standards.
“This strategy also directly addresses Ghana’s prison overpopulation, which has become a human rights disaster due to extreme overcrowding.
“By adopting the approach proposed in this paper, Parliament can relieve pressure on Ghana’s criminal justice system, reallocate funds to areas of urgent need, and promote a more restorative rather than punitive approach to justice by implementing non-custodial sentencing.
“Adopting these proposed legislative responses will also demonstrate Ghana’s dedication to progressive and enlightened governance.
“It would show a readiness to approach difficult social challenges in a way that preserves the values of justice and fairness, respects the dignity of every person, and foster social harmony,” Afenyo-Markin noted.