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15.11.2011 Feature Article

Prisoners’ Right To Vote Upheld

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Every citizen of Ghana of eighteen years of age or above and of sound mind has the right to vote and is entitled to be registered as a voter for the purposes of public elections and referenda.

-Article 42, 1992 Constitution of The Republic of Ghana.

Prison inmates in Ghana would be allowed to exercise their right to vote in 2012 general elections. This was announced by President JEA Mills during the commissioning of the Ankaful Maximum Security Prison in the Central Region on 8 November, 2011.

The move is in compliance with the Supreme Court's ruling last year which upheld prisoners' right to vote in general elections. The Electoral Commission is therefore to be resourced to register eligible prisoners to enable them exercise their franchise in future elections.

The decision which is to allow prisoners to vote in future elections is heartwarming and highly commendable. Ghana's constitution guarantees the right to vote to all Ghanaians as specified above and that includes prison inmates.

Prison inmates have a right to be treated with respect and dignity. To deny them the right to vote is to consider them less Ghanaian for no other reason than that they have been imprisoned.

For the avoidance of doubt, the Prisons Service Decree 1972, NRCD 46 section 2 provides that: In the performance of its duty the Prisons Service shall ensure that-

(a) No person shall be subjected to- (i) torture or inhuman or degrading punishment; or

(ii) Any other condition that detracts or is likely to detract from his dignity and worth as a human being.

By allowing prisoners to vote we are only protecting and promoting their right to be treated with respect and dignity in compliance with what the Decree says.

When we allow prisoners to vote, we are giving them the opportunity to have a say in the country's democratic dispensation. We should not forget that the formulation and implementation of policies and programmes would ultimately affect prisoners.

It is therefore not out of place for those seeking the mandate to rule this country to seek the views and opinions of inmates with regard to their policies and programmes which they will implement if they gained political power. Political and economic decisions will have an impact on the lives of prisoners. Thus the inputs of prisoners will be necessary.

Health and education would be of particular importance to prisoners as these will have implications for their reformation and rehabilitation. When the prison doors are flung open, discharged inmates should be able to access employment in the community to which they return. They should be able to successfully reintegrate into their communities and contribute their quota to nation building.

Again when prisoners are given the opportunity to exercise their franchise, they will show greater interest in governance issues. Prisoners have access to news through radio and television as well as by reading newspapers.

They will look for good leadership qualities in people before voting for them. They will study the manifestoes of political parties and vote for the party that they believe will cater for their interests when in power. Prisoners are not fools. They will vote for a president and a party that will ensure an equitable sharing of the national cake to include them (the prisoners).

The right to vote should be extended to remand prisoners as well. They constitute a sizable proportion of the entire prisoner population.

The Electoral Commission has indicated that those who have been imprisoned for electoral offences would not be allowed to vote. Such a restriction will not augur well for the reformation and rehabilitation of prisoners. My humble opinion is that all prisoners should be allowed to vote. There should be no restrictions.

Those who are kicking against the right of prisoners to vote should think again. They should not politicize the issue. The decision of the Supreme Court to uphold the right of prisoners to vote in general elections should be respected by all Ghanaians. No adult Ghanaian of sound mind should be excluded from the democratic process just because he or she is in prison.

Abundant Robert AWOLUGUTU
Correction Officer
Kumasi Central Prisons
+233(0) 208 455 296

Abundant Robert K. Awolugutu
Abundant Robert K. Awolugutu, © 2011

The author has 146 publications published on Modern Ghana.Column: AbundantRobertKAwolugutu

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