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04.10.2004 General News

EDITORIAL: Our Prisons Are Death Traps

By Chronicle

LIVING CONDITIONS in Ghana's prisons are, to say the least, abominable and The Chronicle wholeheartedly agrees with the Acting Commissioner for Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ), Ms Anna Bossman, that immediate steps be taken to bring them up to acceptable standards.

Over-crowded and poorly maintained, the prisons have become veritable dens for the breeding of bitter, vengeful and wicked-intentioned men and women, who leave prison, determined to get back at society for being treated like animals in a cage.

If prison custody is supposed to reform and rehabilitate criminals, then we are afraid to say that the purpose is totally defeated by the conditions prevailing in all our prisons. After even the briefest stint in prison, a person would become more criminal-minded simply because of the desperate fight for survival he had to go through every single day.

Apart from the Nsawam Medium Security Prison, it would seem most of our prisons were not custom-built for their purpose. Rather, old castles and forts, constructed during the era of slavery, are what are in use.

Damp and vermin-infested, these old buildings are crammed with prisoners: a dungeon supposed to house ten people will most likely hold quadruple the number.

And to make matters worse, there is hardly any bedding, thus forcing prisoners to sleep on the bare floor, at best on a threadbare blanket full of lice. Toilet facilities are nil and prisoners make do with open buckets.

As for the food provided them, the least said about it, the better. A form of corn meal, which prisoners call "ZONTOLI" is the mainstay of their meals, served with a watery imitation of soup dubbed "MANPOWER". Should a person live for a week on this paltry fare, he automatically becomes a candidate for all kinds of infections, from tuberculosis to scabies.

But human resilience allows people to survive these awful conditions, even in the absolute lack of medical care, including ordinary simple first aid. A sick prisoner is nothing more than just a number, unknown, uncared for.

Then to cap it all is the sheer, unremitting monotony and boredom that leads to nothing other than thoughts of retribution and shared tales of crime.

The best prisoners can hope for is to work outside prison walls in gangs supervised by a warder or two. Nothing like occupational therapy exists, and even if they do, they are totally inadequate.

We admit that people who have broken the law must be made to suffer the consequences of their actions. We admit that prisoners must not be molly-coddled, as if they are being rewarded for their crimes. However, to treat human beings the way they are, in our prisons is surely counter-productive.

We submit that by such treatment, we are only compounding the root causes that lead to the committing of crime. We must seriously rethink the whole criminal justice system we are operating now and bring it up to the 21st century norms prevailing in progressive societies.

Custodial sentences should, in many cases, be abandoned for community service. The Chronicle believes when such forward-looking policies in criminal justice are pursued, it would not only decongest our prisons, it would reduce crime in general.

We call on the CHRAJ to pursue this goal vigorously and zealously to give meaning to its name. It would save it the unpleasant duty of the annual ritual inspection of prisons and police cells, which we are certain, spoils their appetite no small way If there are international standards, then for God's sake, let us try to adhere to them.

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