The challenges facing the Ghana Prisons Service are varied—most of which are interlinked and will require substantial amount of resources to solve.
Fortunately, the current Prisons Service Council, previous Councils, and the Prisons Directorate have done a good job by identifying these challenges and, taken steps to develop a 10-year Strategic Development Plan to resolve them.
In a spirit of continuity, the 6th Prisons Service Council under the Chairmanship of Rev. Dr. Stephen Wengam has taken upon itself the task to raise funds for the implementation of the 10-year Strategic Development Plan. To do this, the Council will launch Project Efiase on June 26, 2015, at the State House Banquet Hall.
Project Efiase is a fundraiser soliciting the assistance of ordinary Ghanaians and corporate Ghana in the betterment support of improvement of Ghana’s prisons.
But why should ordinary Ghanaians help? What do they stand to benefit by supporting Project Efiase? Are Ghana’s prisons not government’s responsibility? What is government doing about the challenges facing prisons?
This article will address these questions and many more, but first let us address the following. Why do we imprison people in the first place and what type of persons end up in Ghana’s prisons?
Why do we imprison people?
According to Connie Clem , people are sentenced to prison for four basic reasons. The first is incapacitation which is, “the concept that putting an offender in a secure facility prevents him/her from victimizing the public again”. The second is deterrence which is, “the concept that knowing that someone else was punished for a crime will make another person less likely to commit the same crime”.
The third reason why we imprison people is retribution, and refers to the “concept that an offender who serves time is paying society back for the harm done in the crime”. The fourth reason is rehabilitation which refers to “the concept of providing treatment (such as addiction treatment) and programs (such as education and job skills training) to boost the likelihood that an inmate will not return to crime when he or she is released back to the community”.
Among the above concepts, rehabilitation has the highest usefulness to society. It treats and re-orients the offender in such a way that it reduces the likelihood of them returning to crime when released. And yet since attaining independence, Ghana as a nation has mostly funded the first three concepts—not the fourth partly because it is more expensive.
Although, expensive at the initial stage, rehabilitation is in the long run cheaper financially and socially—not to mention much safer for society. It is much better for society when prisoners come out reformed rather than hardened.
Who ends up in Ghanaian prisons? The simple answer is anyone. It houses both convicts and persons awaiting trial for crimes they may or may not have committed.
Why is it difficult to reform Prisoners in Ghana?
Lack of funding, poor infrastructure, lack of space, lack of tools for skills development programmes for prisoners, lack of staff development for officers, and many others are a few reasons reformation and rehabilitation in Ghana’s prisons are difficult.
For starters, infrastructure is a huge challenge. The Prisons Service has 45 establishments, of which 43 serve as prisons facilities. Of the 43, only 3 were purposely built by the Ghana government to serve as prisons. Of the 3, one is still under construction that is, Ghana’s only maximum security prison. The other 40 were not originally built as prisons by government.
The Yeji Camp Prison, for example, used to be an abandoned clinic. The Winneba Prison was formerly a warehouse dating back to the colonial era. The Koforidua Prison also served as an armory in colonial times. The Kumasi Prison was built in 1946. The prisons at Kenyasi and Dua Yaw N'kwanta were given to the Prisons Service by the Ministry of Agriculture. The gift of land at Kenyasi came with a solitary structure which the Prisons Service had to secure and eventually expand to house prisoners. The age of these structures as well as their spatial challenges need to be revisited in the bid to tackle the acute congestion in the prisons.
Another reason why it is difficult to reform prisoners is lack of logistics and tools in the Prisons Service. Some of the machines and equipment in the prisons dating back to the colonial era are obsolete and have malfunctioned for inmates’ skills development
What about the various parcels of lands owed by the Prisons Service? Can they not be cultivated and the proceeds sold to generate funds for the Service? It’s a great idea; however, there are some hindrances to the implementation.
Although the Prisons Service does have an Agricultural Division that supervises farming activities in the country’s prisons, the Service is not able to farm large acreage of land for a number of reasons. First, many of the prisons are not in close proximity to the potential farm lands. Vehicles are needed to convey prisoners to and from the farms, but the Prisons Service lacks operational vehicles to do this.
Even if the vehicles were available, prison officers at the moment are not well armed for extensive escort duties. Farming on a large-scale requires tractors and other farming machinery as well as irrigation equipment. The Prisons Service is undoubtedly, bereft of these.
Assuming all the aforementioned challenges are resolved and the Prisons Service is able to cultivate thousands of acres with plentiful harvest from its agricultural endeavours, what will happen to the surplus after selling some and feeding the inmates? The vast majority would probably rot because of the lack of storage facilities.
Another more nuanced challenge is inmates’ feeding. Currently, prisoners are fed on GH¢1.80 for breakfast, lunch and supper. This amount includes the contractor’s profit margin. The quality of meals provided by such rate cannot provide prisoners the needed energy to work on large acreage of land.
Notwithstanding all the above mentioned limitations, the Prisons Service has done a commendable job of cultivating close to 1,000 acres.
What is government doing for the Prisons?
The funds allotted for the maintenance and operations of the Prisons Service and the sustenance of inmates comes from government’s coffers.
Not too long ago, the daily feeding rate per each prisoner was GH¢0.60. The present government has tripled that feeding rate.
Through GETFund, government has provided funds for the construction of school blocks for inmates who wish to acquire formal education. The Wa Central Prison education block is complete while that of Nsawam Prison is 85% complete. In 2014, the prisoners who sat for BECE and WASSCE had a 100% pass.
Government has established ICT Centres in all the Central Prisons in Ghana for inmates to upgrade their ICT skills. There are plans to build a new prison at Bolgatanga.
Through collaboration with the Ghana government, the British High Commission gave a grant of GB£485,000 to the Ghana Prisons Service. Part of the grant was spent in procuring two new buses for the Service, renovating sections of the Nsawam Medium Security Prison as well as constructing a court near the prison facility.
What else is government doing? The 1992 Constitution states that there should be a parole system which up until now has not been implemented. The current government is working on this as well as the implementation of non-custodial sentencing as part of the country’s penal system. This will go a long way to reducing the congestion in the prisons.
The President of Ghana has also promised to visit the prisons with the Council—making him the first sitting president to do so—to acclimatize himself with conditions firsthand.
In summary, the government is working assiduously to improve conditions in Ghana’s prisons, but the challenges span different administrations and have accumulated over time. Government alone cannot solve all the perennial challenges of the Prisons Service, hence the need for Project Efiase.
The Way forward – Project Efiase
Project Efiase is a fund raising project. It is the Prisons Service Council’s outreach to ordinary Ghanaians to assist in transforming Ghana’s prisons into centres of reformation, rehabilitation and productivity—not just incapacitation, deterrence and retribution.
It is a call to the ordinary citizen and corporate Ghana to support this national security agency which forms an integral part of Ghana’s Criminal Justice System.
The President has pledged his support for this project—indicating government’s preparedness to top up whatever amount of money is raised via this project.
A nation can rise or fall based on the state of its prisons system. Together, let’s assist the Prisons Service in its drive to reform and rehabilitate prisoners. This will lead to a safer, more prosperous Ghana.
By Solomon Appiah
Member, 6th Prisons Council
Email: [email protected]