A group known as Offender Management and Rehabilitation Organization (OMRO) was inaugurated in Accra last Friday, October 19.
The group, which would work in close collaboration with agencies like the Police Service, Prison Service and the Ministry of Education, aims at discouraging young people from engaging in offending and anti-social behaviours.
Speaking at the launch of OMRO, Marcus-Chris Lawson, who has over 15 years of offender rehabilitation experience in the U.K., said it was imperative for young people to be kept out of long term detention in order to prevent them from re-offending in the future.
“Our young people leave prison no better equipped to contribute to society than when they went in.
They don't learn anything there, and they don't forget anything either; they don't forget the root causes of what caused them to break the law in the first place, such as economic deprivation, or a broken family.”
He revealed that OMRO would begin its operation with an advocacy campaign for a change in the way young people were dealt with by the justice system.
Describing Ghana's prisons as “little more than tins of sardines”, Mr. Lawson noted that OMRO would be pushing for young people to be dealt with more informally, for example by a court of their peers, before going before the criminal court.
He added that he believed imprisonment should be the last resort when dealing with youth offenders and that other penalties, such as community service, were far more effective at preventing young criminals from committing further offences.
“In prison, the only skills that young people learn are negative ones, which only add to their problems. We want to promote a safer community by diverting the focus away from imprisonment and onto education, rehabilitation and social welfare programmes.”
Mr. Lawson disclosed that OMRO would be seeking to establish links with educational groups, counseling services and other related institutions in order to provide young people with the means to better themselves and work for the good of the community.
With regard to those offenders already in custody, he said OMRO hopes to establish programmes within prisons and set up a system of “aftercare” to provide newly released prisoners with ongoing support.
“We believe that a good social development policy is the best criminal policy,” Mr. Lawson observed, adding that “OMRO is an organization that will focus on tackling the causes of youth crime, in this way, developing both the future of young offenders and the future of Ghana”.
By Eleanor Gurney