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October 16, 2016 | Feature Article

Ghanaian Political Elites Care Nothing About The Reform Of It's Criminal Justice Delivery System

Ghanaian Political Elites Care Nothing About The Reform Of It's Criminal Justice Delivery System

In both theory and practice ,the criminal justice system of most democratic jurisdictions ,refers to that level of maintaining effective and efficient law and order involving the active and tacit functioning of the various state institutions as the police ,the court systems ,the prisons and the probation or community correction services

Admittedly , each of these aforementioned state institutions have their specific and defined roles they are constitutionally obligated to discharge within the context of laid down legislative instruments , procedures , protocols and standards of best practice

Although this discourse is not intended to reiterate the duties and responsibilities of these statutory institutions , it suffices to be conscious ,aware and acknowldge that the output of the work of each institution automatically dove -tails into and generates the professional work input of the other ,culminatibg into the desired overall agenda of law and order which can promote public safety and public protection

Of course we are all too familiar with the functioning of the police service in Ghana , which involves the detection of crime , arrest and prosecution in courts of law of those who flout the laws of the land for example

This more or else draw closures to its statutory responsibilities to the citizenry in as much as public protection and public safety is concerned

The output of the work of the police , thus generates the inputs for the court to kick start its procesess of adjudication in ensuring that those found culpable of the crimes or offences alledgedly commited are dealt with swiftly and judiciously by the institution of competent jurisdictions

In this way justice is deemed to be served as the court outcome promotes justice for the victim(s) with the offender receiving those punishments defined by the criminal procedure code and as in Ghana it is only but a two way traffic - custodial sentences or financial penalty by way of court fines

This brings into focus the question of What is Punishment and What is the purpose and indeed tte rationale for Punishment ?

The concept of punishment can best be understood from its criminological theoritical perspectives of classiscism and neo-classiscism ,drawing upon the dichotonomy between the punishment of retribution or the punishment fits the crime philosophy and the punishment of rehabilitation or reformation ethos

Clearly , it is these differentials that modern criminology acknowledges and recognises as the Justice Model or approaches to punishment and the Welfarist Model or approaches to punishment ,the latter with its wide ranges of community based initiatives and programmes for addressing offending behaviour so as to achieve the rehabilitative dynamics of punishment

The penal policies of most jurisdictions are determined or directed by either of these two approaches or in few circumstances a careful balancing act of both approaches particularly in the paradigm of juvenile justice delivery

Even in those jurisdictions like in the UK practice where the direction of penal philosophy has at the centre the Justice Model, practical opportunities are developed within the context of noncustodial sentencing options which empower the courts to sentence offences which are minor in nature and character to community based sentences inclusive of probation and community pay backs or community service

In Ghana , the lack of theoritical philosophical direction or understanding of punishment will account for the rather myopic and narrow mindedness of punishment which is concretised by an archaic , superflous ,outmoded and a not fit for purpose criminal procedure code , one singularly accountable for the over population of our prison estates characterised with other hydra headed challenges

Sadly ,whereas Ghana has virtually copied or replicated whosale the legislative , sentencing , court procedures and processes from the British criminal justice delivery practice ,yet in the sphere of sentencing it has fixated itself on custodial and financial penalties alone and l have already identified the consequences of this selective criminal justice delivery within the body- politic

The only responses of government and their short-sighted bureaucratic elites have been what in my professional assessment a half-baked Justice for All Programme approach , one that has no theoritical underpinnings and does not provide for any meaningful comprehensive assessment framework for the release of the beneficiaries in identifying their needs pre-release or any risks they may likely pose to public safety and public protection so as to manage it holistically

Several articles have already been written by this author regarding the misplacement of this so call Justice for All Programme with practical suggestions which are evidence based to address the challenges confronting our prison estates without any politician or civil bureaucrats giving a hoot

Developing alternatives to custodial sentencing framework through a comprehensive penal reform programmes and intiatives featured in almost all my over fifty two write -ups on the subject of rethinking our criminal justice delivery

All we hear are the empty rhetorics , play to the gallery and media headline catching stories purported to managing the problems of prison over crowding and the associated problems, not to talk about the unproductive prison visits by those in position of power and authority with empty promises as working tools and strategies

Just before the general elections of 2012 , l drew the attention of the presidential candidates to the urgent need to address the subject of penal reform in their manifestoes and campaigns and penned an open letter to President Mills given the lack of attention to the subject and indeed the challenges of prison over crowding following his election as President of the country

Four years have almost gone by and the prison population continues to explode without any meaningful , reasonable , prudent and credible approaches in responding to the problem they present

Although the ministry of interior had had some limited consultations with a rather small group of persons in drawing up a proposal for devising and developing non custodial sentencing framework in 20154, it is a big shame that this work like many others before it is gathering dust at the Ministry of Justice and the Attorney Generals'Department to date

The biggest disappointment for many professional observers is the strange coincidence that none of the political parties especially the major ones , the NDC and the NPP have given any thought to this national challenge but have woefully ignored and treated with disdain the hydra headed challenges that confront our criminal justice delivery system

It is a shame that penal reform with its characteristic features of developing alternatives to custodial sentencing have not attracted the attention of our politicians at this time once again

Clearly , rethinking Ghana's criminal justice delivery system appears to be of no concerns to the political elites and their bureaucratic compradors, no doubt it is missing from their electioneering promise trolley of one this one that craze0

Undoubtedl8y no conscious or genuine efforts will be made to address it once and for all and the rhetoric will not only continue unabated but the half baked Justice for All Reform delivery which lacks any research based evidence will continue to take centre stage of Ghana's criminal justice delivery system

The view now is for a credible civil society organisation to hold the political actors to account and get them commit their manifestos to the agenda for a penal reform and indeed a comprehensive non custodial sentencing framework which should have the professional capacity to address Ghana's ever growing prison overcrowding as pertains in most democratic jurisdictions, especially as matters of imprisonment are matters of fundamental human rights

The time to actualize Ghana's penal reform agenda is NOW or never

*The author who is a penal reform advocate is the Executive Director of OMRO and founding member of the Penal Reform Consortium a Ghanaian non -governmental organisation.He can be reached via [email protected] Or 00233248416287 / 00447957386292

Marcus-Chris Lawson
Marcus-Chris Lawson

The author has authored 63 publications on Modern Ghana.
Author's column: MarcusChrisLawson

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Marcus-Chris Lawson and do not neccessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

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