Prisons are expected to be reformative centres and not an incarceration zone and a breeding place for criminals. Unfortunately however the would over, many criminals emerge from prisons sometimes are hardened than ever before.
In this global village where people of various origins can find themselves in countries other than their own, it behooves on governments to find means of safeguarding the welfare of their citizens wherever, and under whatever conditions they may find themselves.
It is in this light that the Joint Committee on Legal, Constitutional and Parliamentary Affairs, Defence and Interior has laid the Transfer of Convicted People's Bill (a.k.a Eric Amoateng Bill) before Parliament. The Bill, among other things, seeks to bring Ghanaians convicted of certain crimes overseas to serve their sentences at home, in exchange for similar overtures to foreign nationals convicted in Ghana.
The obvious question that arises is, is this necessary? Do we have the requisite logistics, resources and infrastructure to undertake this exercise? Is this the only way through which the situation can be handled? This piece will attempt to take a critical look at these concerns.
One argument that can be mooted against this bill is the already existent Extradition Act of 1960 (Act 22). The Act creates room for detainees outside to be brought home for trial. However, such agreements require that the government of Ghana must first have extradition agreements with such countries. Even in this case, the act or omission in question must constitute an offence in both countries.
Perhaps, a more cogent argument against the introduction of such a bill relates to the attitudes of our missions abroad towards Ghanaians who in one way or the other, find themselves in tragic circumstances, especially with immigration offences.
Most often than not, these people are left to their own fate, even though the offence might not necessarily be criminal, but a mere lack of knowledge of an administrative procedure. In such instances, why don't our missions abroad rise to the defence of these victims, than wait for them to be convicted before we request for them to serve their sentences our already awarded prisons at home, in Ghana? At least, prisons of a legal counsel for these people could have presented some of them from being imprisoned in the first place.
However, sound this argument may seem, it is important that we divorce the provision of consular services from the issue of transfer of convicted persons. In the first place, how many of our foreign nationals register with our consulates and embassies abroad? How then does one authenticate their status so as to rise to their assistance in times of need?
Secondly, it stands to reason that no matter the sophisticated legal representation given to these people, some will still be convicted anyway. Should such people be left to themselves to go through the harrowing prison conditions like the Thailand episode unraveled by the investigative journalist, Anas Aremeyaw Anas, of the Crusading Guide last year? In any case, 25 member countries of the Commonwealth already have taken the lead with legislations to that effect.
Another position that should make us thread on the side of caution with the passage of this bill is the condition of our prisons at the moment. With the already congestions in our prisons, lack of logistics, inadequate remuneration and motivation of prison officers, is this a workable and prudent option?
Yes, there are challenges with our prison facilities and problems of motivation within the workforce. Our prisons are not fully equipped with the necessary logistics. Prisoners hardly come home reformed. Honestly, these are challenges that we must confront head-on as a nation.
The visible challenges notwithstanding, our prison conditions are far better than some elsewhere. At least there are no reported cases of abuse and torture of prison inmates as it pertains elsewhere, for example in the infamous Thailand case. The one instance of Daasebre Dwamena coming out of jail better equipped than before should not blind our thought and sights to others going through dehumanising conditions in other places.
Let us not adopt the position of throwing away the baby with the bathwater. We should be mindful of the fact that it is the duty of every government to ensure, at least, the minimal comfort of every citizen everywhere, including prisoners.
My hope is that in drafting the bill, the framers took into account the fact that there should not be a blanket transfer or swapping of prisoners. The fears already outlined, and others like what the nation stands to gain from such deals and protocols should be carefully considered. Let's however refrain from politicising it. It is a necessity!!!
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