Non-Custodial Sentencing To Decongest Ghana's Prisons
Madam Tove Degnbol, the Ambassador of Denmark to Ghana, says the practice of Non-Custodial Sentencing would go a long way to help decongest Ghana's prisons.
She said the Non-Custodial sentencing policy would guarantee prisoner's rights to sentencing and consequently reduce prison congestion and promote reformation among convicts; adding that it was a key ambition of Denmark to support initiatives that promote human rights and social justice.
She explained that experience from other countries where it was used, including Denmark, showed that Non-Custodial sentences was also significantly reducing the number of prisoners who return to prison after they were released (the so-called rate of recidivism).
Madam Degnbol said this at a Multi-Stakeholder Conference on the "Non-Custodial Sentencing Policy Zero Draft Bill", in Accra.
The workshop, which was opened formally by Chief Justice Sophia Akuffo was on the theme: 'Consolidating Efforts to Enrich the Zero Draft Non-Custodial Sentencing'.
It was organised by the POS Foundation in collaboration with the Ministry of the Interior and the Judicial Service of Ghana.
Non-Custodial Sentence or Alternative Sentence refers to a punishment given by a court of law that does not involve a prison term.
Non-Custodial Sentence has various forms such as community service order, probation order, supervision order (parole), drug testing and treatment order.
Madam Degnbol said: "We believe that the Zero Draft Bill represents a milestone for Ghana's commitment to promoting access to justice for all, including vulnerable populations".
"The non-custodial sentencing bill, when passed into law, will affirm Ghana's quest for the protection of all citizen's rights in accordance with international norms and standards," she added.
The Ambassador said the State had the responsibility to guarantee people's rights; including fair trial for all, and rehabilitation and reformation for convicts.
She mentioned the problems of overcrowded prisons, the spread of infectious diseases such as tuberculosis (TB), chicken pox, high cell temperatures and noise levels as a result of poor ventilation in cells.
"I have had the opportunity to visit the Nsawam and the Akuse prisons, and although staff from Ghana Prisons Service were doing their best, it was obvious that there were too many prisoners and that they were suffering from the congestion," the Ambassador stated.
"It is for this reason that Denmark is pleased to be a part of this laudable initiative of the Judicial Service of introducing alternative sentencing regime into the Country's laws."
Madam Degnbol said, she was hopeful that the bill, when passed into-law, would correct the structural defects in Ghana's justice system that only sentence or remand prisoners into custody without giving them the opportunity for alternative sentencing.
She urged both the Cabinet and the Legislature, and other key stakeholders to give the draft Bill the necessary support to ensure its swift passage into law.
Mr Ambrose Dery, Minister of the Interior, in a speech read on his behalf said, as at October 10, there were a total of 15,094 prisoners held in custody against a total capacity of 9,875, with a corresponding general overcrowding rate of 52.9 per cent.
He said the passage of the Non-Custodial Sentencing Bill into law would help decongest the nation's prisons; and also help reduce the high cost of feeding inmates.
Mr Jonathan Osei-Owusu, Founding Executive Director, POS Foundation said the Non-Custodial Sentencing Bill, 2018, deals with the alternate sentencing powers to provide for the rehabilitation of offenders and to provide for related matters.
He said the Bill, which had been submitted to the Chief Justice for review, was subsequently forwarded to the Attorney-General/Ministry of Justice and finally to the Ministry of the Interior.