Prioritise non-custodial sentencing

BY: Justice Agbenorsi
• Mr Jonathan Osei Owusu (middle) explaing a point to the participants. With him are ASP Stephen Okai Aboagye and  Apostle Lawrence Otu Nyarko, a Finance and Administration Director, Church of Pentecost
• Mr Jonathan Osei Owusu (middle) explaing a point to the participants. With him are ASP Stephen Okai Aboagye and Apostle Lawrence Otu Nyarko, a Finance and Administration Director, Church of Pentecost

Speakers at a roundtable discussion on sentencing in the country’s  Criminal Justice System have called on judges to prioritise  the option of non-custodial sentencing that exist under the 1992 Constitution rather than giving custodial sentences to convicts especially, petty offenders.

They have also called on government to expedite action to pass the Community Service Bill and come up with a comprehensive law on non-custodial sentencing.

The speakers, who are of the view that options of non-custodial sentences that are in the Constitution are not given prominence by judges, argued that the move, would decongest the prisons, help in the proper reintegration of offenders into the society, rehabilitation and bring meaning to livelihoods.

The speakers were  an officer from the Legal Unit of the Ghana Prisons Service,  ASP Stephen Okai Aboagye, an Assistant Director at the Ministry for the Interior, Ms Gifty Quaye, a representative from the Attorney General’s Department, Mrs Ameley Dankwa Agyeman and the Executive Director of POS Foundation, Mr Jonathan Osei Owusu.

Non-custodial sentence

Non-custodial sentence is an alternative sentence that refers to a punishment given by a court of law that does not involve a prison term.

Non-custodial sentence that exist under the country’s current legal regime include fines and bond.

Other non-custodial sentence options such as parole and community service however are not yet options for judges under the Constitution.

Event

The roundtable discussion held yesterday, June 9, both in-person and virtually, was organised by the Centre for Democratic Development (CDD) Ghana  to engage relevant stakeholders on how the country could expedite action for the passage of a comprehensive Non-Custodial Sentencing law to ensure Ghana’s legal system worked towards reform and rehabilitation of offenders.

It brought together stakeholders from the Ghana Police Service, Ministry of the Interior, Ghana Prisons Service and Office of the Attorney General and the facilitators of the Justice for All Programme, POS Foundation as well as the media.

Prisons Service

ASP  Aboagye from the Legal Unit of the Ghana Prisons Service said the country’s total prison population stood at 13,192.

Out of the number, 11,638 were convicts, representing 88.22 per cent, 1,554 were on remand while authorised space stood at 9,945.

He said with the current arrangement, a person who had been convicted for assault was made to serve his/her jail term with someone who had been convicted of robbery in the same prison.

This arrangement, ASP Aboagye said, would rather make the person convicted of assault more hardened when they returned from prison as they would learn from those convicted of robbery.

“The hardened criminals pollute the less hardened criminals and they become more hardened when they come out,” he said.

The situation, he said, made it difficult for convicts who served jail terms to be properly rehabilitated.

ASP Aboagye said about 90 per cent of the prison service’s current budget allocation  was spent on feeding inmates adding that “if this option is explored, it is really going to help us as a service and we are looking forward to that as it will enable the numbers to go down to ensure that we use the limited facilities to train the rest to be good citizens.”

He noted that the Prison Service had drafted a Constitutional Instrument (C.I) on parole and forwarded it to the Attorney General’s Department for advice.

Ministry of Interior

 Ms Quaye, speaking on behalf of the Ministry of Interior, said people who committed offences such as misdemeanor should be given non-custodial sentences.

“This also demands a change in thinking for judges because most often, they choose custodial sentencing,” she said.

Community Service Bill

Mrs Dankwa Agyeman,  from the Attorney General’s Department, said with the recorded cases of lynching of criminals in the country, there was the need for considerable research to be conducted before passing the community service bill.

She said before passing the bill, there was the need for the country to learn and educate the public on best practices to ensure that convicts who were made to service the community were not beaten up or lynched by their victims.

POS

 Mr Osei Owusu,  from POS Foundation stressed the need for government to put structures in place to ensure that the convicts did not become second-time offenders.

That, he said, would ensure that convicts and petty offenders were successfully reintegrated into the community while decongesting the prisons.