The Statesman newspaper says its investigations at the James Fort Remand Prison in Accra show that the facility, built by the British in 1673 to house 50 people now houses over 1,000 inmates.
The report said even though the capacity of the prison has been stretched to accommodate 440 inmates, one room, designed to take not more than ten bunk beds was home to 92 non-convicted prisoners.
“The place is so congested that to use the thin boarding school mattresses on the floor would occupy too much space; the few lucky prisoners have resorted to lying on blankets spread on the concrete floor. But, many inmates are reduced to sleeping on the bare floor,” the report stated.
It said one room, about 12 by 14 foot big was crammed full with 10 inmates ant the room was so thronged that there was enough space only for hanging bags on the walls.
The paper said there are more than two hundred inmates at James Fort who have been locked up for more than three years without trial. Worse still, all of them have very little clue as to the current state of their case. Some even complain of missing dockets.
“The place can simply be described as a dump-them-and-forget-about-them oubliette. As one inmate puts it, "It's by the grace of God and by the big, big hu¬manity of the prison officers which keep us going."
Their anger and frustrations are directed towards the police and the judi¬ciary. The police are quick to ask the courts to remand suspects, while they leisurely comb around for evidence. The courts are quick to agree, after which neither the courts nor the police are in any particular hurry to proceed with trial.
No prisoner seemed to have a bad word for the wardens. Indeed, DSP Alhassan who took over James Fort a year ago is praised for allowing the use of television sets. One warden told The Statesman, "It helps keep them sane and occupied. But, our appeals for TV donations to the business community have not been successful."
There is only one classroom-size compound in the centre of the facility housing the prisoners. That place is used for church services. About eight services take place daily. Other prisoners spend their day playing cards, draughts or hawking foodstuff, spices and toiletries to the prison community.
Sources within the penal system say because of meagre budgets they have to rely on charity for blankets. Barclays Bank was one such corporate body that provided barrels for storing water. The buildings are old, ventilation is poor and roofs are leaking.
Meanwhile, for a penal system that does not entertain probation service or non-custodial sentences other than fines, the prisons in Ghana continue to congest, with no signs of more facilities being built to absorb even the natural growth of the penal population.
Source: The Statesman