Criminal justice in Ghana: Urgent reforms (2)
What are the means by which criminals are punished in Ghana? Section 294 of Criminal Procedure Code, 1960 (Act 30) states the kinds of punishment we have in Ghana.
The following punishments may be inflicted for offences: death, imprisonment, detention, fine, payment of compensation and liability to police supervision.
When we compare what we have here with what prevails in other Common law countries, we see some few differences.
In the UK, they have four; discharges, fines and compensations, community service, imprisonment, and driving disqualification.
Discharges are where the court finds you guilty but suspends sentence, and lets you off.
Normally, one would be conditionally discharged so that if within a period of, for instance, three years, you commit the same offence, or another crime altogether, the court would then cancel the discharge and sentence you. It is similar to probation in the US.
In the US, where a person is already a convict prisoner, he could also benefit from parole.
This is a system by which the convict is released from prison, normally for good conduct, and placed under a supervisor, while serving the rest of the sentence in the community, doing some work. When the person misconducts himself, he could be taken back to prison.
In Ghana, the congestion in the prisons is caused by the Police, the Attorney-General’s office and the courts, when they become also liable through tardiness in starting trials, and condoning the intemperate excuses of the prosecution.
Look at this matter.
Yaw Kweku was a passenger seated in front of the taxi he boarded to a destination. Behind, two other passengers were also seated.
One of the two pulled out a pistol at the driver and asked him to surrender his money, while the other attempted to pick what he could from the left side pocket of the door.
Fortunately, the driver was close to a police station and sped there; he dashed out of the car to report.
The two passengers bolted away.
The police came and dragged out Yaw Kweku, who was still seated, confounded by what was happening.
They generously slapped him and bolted him behind bars as a robber suspect!
They took from him his ¢30.00, as proof of his robbery! The driver drove away never to be seen again! Yaw Kweku was arraigned before the Accra Circuit Court and remanded in custody on March 10, 2001.
On August 24, 2001, the case was called and adjourned.
By December 11, 2001, the case had been adjourned 30 times!
The case was again mentioned on January 8, 2002 and adjourned.
As at August 20, 2002, the case had been adjourned 29 times! The case came up on May 6, 2003 and adjourned.
By December 18, 2003, the case had been adjourned 12 times!
It continued on January 12, 2004.
As at December 21, 2004, the case had been adjourned 22 times! The case came up on January 11, 2005.
The last date for 2005 was February 15, 2005, and was called three times! In 2006, it was called on March 29.
That was the end.
It was not called again!
In August 2008, Yaw Kweku applied to the Accra High Court for discharge, and it was granted, after seven years in remand custody without trial.
Was he compensated for injury to his constitutional rights? None!
The congestion in the prisons is harmful to the inmates.
First is the poor feeding; second is the health hazards and inadequate health facilities in the prisons to handle the diverse diseases that emerge at the prisons; third is the low ratio of officer to prisoner relationship for counselling and personal attention; fourth is the criminalisation of relatively innocent persons by association with professional criminals; fifth is the attenuation of their energies and creative abilities by non-existing vocational and technical facilities to engage their time and reform their minds.
Sixth is that of recidivism, estimated at 24 per cent of ex-convicts. It means the persons actually commit crime again to be returned to prison.
Eventually, the Prison Service is so overwhelmed they become virtually ineffective in impacting the prisoners positively.
The decongestion of the prisons requires Parliamentary attention and speedy work to enact legislation along the lines suggested herein.
• Community or non-custodial sentences should be prescribed for all juvenile cases and misdemeanours.
Counselling and mentorship should be used as corrective measures to restore normalcy to deviant behaviours of juveniles.
The 237 juveniles must be released from prison and counselled to normalcy.
• With regard to community work, the district assemblies must liaise with the Prison Service for identification of specific works that would be productive for environmental health of the community, otherwise, mere physical weeding of anywhere would not benefit the community.
•Remandees whose trials have been delayed beyond two years should be released immediately.
When the Police or the Attorney-General completes its investigations, or have completed the case profiles for quick trial, then they could always re-arrest the persons for trial.
• Presidential Pardons. Persons sentenced to death who have been sobered by prison life and have served say about twenty years or more of their life could be considered for Presidential pardon.
The Attorney-General and the Prison Service should work in tandem to effect this.
• Parole/Probation should be part of the legislation to assist in reforming persons.
• Long-serving prisoners must undertake vocational, agricultural works to prepare them for resettlement.
• With the passage in Ghana of the Narcotic Control Commission (Amendment) Bill 2023, cannabis (Wee) could be cultivated for industrial and medical use.
Ghana must decriminalise the possession and smoking of cannabis for recreational purposes.
Beyond the law, the Attorney-General and the Police must be conscientious of the rights of persons assumed to be criminals.
Does the AG know the status of remandees in our prisons: what they did; whether trial is on or not; how long they have been there?
The meticulousness required of police investigations, along with the integrity of a case that the AG must assure, before trial begins, are too often lacking, and that cumulatively adds to the gross injustice in criminal administration on Ghana.
The Judiciary have an equal work to do.
The Magistrates and the Judges must insist on receiving reports of the number of persons in police cells, awaiting trial. And they must also receive reports from the AG on the status of remandees in our prisons.
The current Chief Justice could take these matters up, so that the injustices associated with criminal administration stops, and the prisons are freed of underserving but suffering Ghanaians.
It seems to be that because most criminals come from the lowest stratum of society, we the privileged do not give them a modicum of consideration and respect, but leave them at the periphery of society in the penumbra of gross injustice.
Let us all rethink attitudes towards prisoners, accused persons, and suspects, in the administration of criminal justice.
NGOs and persons zealous of a nation thriving on the credos of Freedom and Justice must stand in defence of those values.
The writer is a lawyer.