The Solution To Prison Overcrowding
The most obvious reform is almost never mentioned: Stop locking up so many people and start letting a lot of people out.
-Anthony Gregory, Research Analyst.
Prison overcrowding is a global problem. Not only is it found in the developing countries but the developed world as well.
The country's prisons are grossly overcrowded. The overcrowding is a consequence of the rather large number of persons awaiting trial.
There are certain practices in the prisons that contribute to overcrowding. All convict prisoners serving a term or aggregate of terms of imprisonment exceeding one month are entitled to enjoy remission. By remission, we mean a portion of a prisoner's sentence is granted to him as a dash for being well-behaved. This is to prevent the prisoner from serving the full sentence.
There are however cases where prisoners have had their remission forfeited under powers granted to the officer in charge of a prison. This can happen when a prisoner has misconducted himself, been tried and found guilty by an officer authorized to do so.
The forfeiture of remission means that the prisoners stay longer in prison at the expense of the taxpayer. The possibility of a miscarriage of justice cannot be ruled out in view of the fact that most of our officers have never been trained in the law.
The courts are largely to blame for prison overcrowding. This is because of the overuse of imprisonment for nonviolent and minor cases. Pre-trial detention has also been over-used.
There are many people in prison who should have been either in a hospital or care institution, among them are the mentally ill and drug users.
In most cases alternatives to imprisonment have never been considered by the courts. Imprisonment has been used as an easy option.
The Dismal Effects Of Overcrowding
The management of prisons has been a challenging task and this has been exacerbated by overcrowding. The maintenance of security has become more difficult.
Overcrowding often provides a fertile ground for prisoners to agitate which sometimes degenerates into riots and violent clashes between prisoners and officers. Such clashes have often led to the needless loss of lives and property.
Aside security and control difficulties, prison overcrowding undermines the ability of correctional facilities to meet the basic needs of prisoners, such as healthcare, food and accommodation. It is also seen as an incubator of contagious diseases such as Tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and various skin diseases.
Overcrowding creates conditions that constitute inhuman and degrading treatment for prisoners and unacceptable working conditions for corrections staff. It also undermines constitutional requirements to give humane treatment to prisoners.
Prisons Service Decree 1972 No.2 stipulates as follows: “In the performance of its duty the Prisons Service shall ensure that no person shall be subjected to:
a. Torture or inhuman or degrading punishment or
b. Any other condition that detracts or is likely to detract from his dignity and worth as a human being.” Reforms are needed to deal with the problem of overcrowding.
Prison overcrowding compromises the provision of rehabilitation programmes, educational training and recreational activities with the result that there is increased re-offending by ex-prisoners.
Stress which is due to overcrowding affects both prisoners and staff. With control difficulties and frequent conflicts between prisoners and prisoners and prisoners and officers, the officers can be become overwhelmed and have low morale.
Overcrowding Violates International Standards
Prison overcrowding poses a serious threat to the basic rights and freedoms of prisoners which include the right to an adequate standard of living and the right to the highest attainable standards of physical and mental health. These rights have been enshrined in article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners makes provision for prisoners with respect to accommodation, healthcare, bed and bedding, floor space, personal hygiene, room temperature among others. Prison overcrowding can nullify the purpose of these provisions.
Overcrowding And Prison Reform
Prison overcrowding appears to be an entrenched problem that has defied solution despite desperate measures to curb it. The measures have always been adhoc which failed to address the problem properly.
Before a sentence of imprisonment is passed on a guilty person, the court should examine the case critically to determine whether imprisonment is necessary, and if it is, to impose the minimum period of imprisonment that meets the objectives of the sentencing.
The courts should be encouraged to consider alternative sanctions to imprisonment. Community service is strongly recommended. The offender is made to do unpaid work in the community for a specific number of hours or days. A community service order can only be carried out if there is an appropriate supervisory agency in place.
Community service should be for the benefit of the community.
It has been successfully promoted and used in Zimbabwe since 1995, why not Ghana?
For very minor cases, the courts may issue a warning, admonitions, reprimands or unconditional release. This measure can keep many people away from prison.
The courts may consider conditional release as a good measure to keep people away from prison. Since the offender will be in the community under conditions set by the court, there is the need to have an agency for its implementation.
Another sanction that could be imposed in place of imprisonment is fines.
Instead of sending the guilty person to prison, his assets or proceeds from his criminal activities may be confiscated to the state.
In order to placate the victim, the court may order the offender to compensate the victim.
Suspended sentences could be employed in dealing with some cases. A sentence of imprisonment may be passed on a guilty person but its implementation may be suspended based on certain conditions set by the court.
A sentencing disposition that could be used in place of imprisonment is the probation order. The court sets conditions which the probationer must comply with or be sent to prison for their violation.
There are many people in prison who are not supposed to be there. They include drug users, mentally ill, defilers and rapists; these people need medical and psychological intervention and should therefore be referred to appropriate treatment centres.
The detention status of prisoners can be reviewed so that those in illegal detention could be released.
The administration of parole by prison managers could help ease congestion in prison. Parole is the act of releasing from prison custody a prisoner who has served a greater part of his sentence into the community under rules the violation of which could bring the parolee back to prison.
The parolee is expected to behave well during the period of his stay in the community. A parole board should be established for this purpose.
Amnesties have also been helpful in reducing overcrowding.
Not all cases should go to court; alternative dispute resolution should be promoted. This has been successfully done in Bangladesh. We should be practicing it in Ghana as well.
Government should consider establishing more open prisons to deal with the overcrowding problem. They are less expensive to manage.
Improving Conditions In Overcrowded Prisons.
The management of overcrowded prisons poses a serious challenge to correctional managers. By adhering to the principles of a well-run prison, conditions can be improved in overcrowded prisons.
Prisoners must not be left to idle. Opportunities should be offered for exercise, sports, cultural and religious activities. Stress will reduce if they are found doing something useful.
They should be engaged in agricultural and industrial programmes. They should appreciate the fact that there is dignity in labour.
There should be health promotion through improved sanitation, environmental cleanliness, and personal hygiene.
During the induction process, new admissions should be classified and accommodated according to their level of risk. Low risk inmates are easy to control than high risk prisoners.
Prison officers need regular training to enable them discharge their duties and responsibilities with professionalism.
To raise their morale, officers need better accommodation and a good salary than what it is now.
In conclusion, the solid solution to prison overcrowding is this: let all those who have violated the rights of no one be released from prison. The political will will certainly be needed for this to happen.
Abundant Robert AWOLUGUTU
ASST. DIR. OF PRISONS/2IC
KUMASI CENTRAL PRISONS
EMAIL: [email protected]