Accra, May 13, GNA - The Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) on Thursday called for the introduction of non-custodial sentencing into Ghana's Criminal Justice System to reduce overcrowding at various prisons.
It noted that overcrowding was the most pressing problem facing prisons in the country, Africa and the world.
Ghana was currently practising the penal system and in the Ghana Prisons Annual Report for 2002, there were 11,400 prisoners accommodated in places meant for 6,500 inmates.
Ms Anna Bossman, Acting Commissioner of CHRAJ, said these at a two-day workshop in Accra under the theme: "Non-Custodial Sentencing in Ghana's Criminal Justice."
The workshop organised by CHRAJ, Center for Democratic Development (CDD) and supported by the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA), attracted legal practitioners, Prison Officials and some human right organisations.
She noted that imprisonment had been too easy in most countries and said it had had negative and damaging rather than the positive and constructive consequence.
Ms Bossman recommended community service order, house arrest and restitution to victims as some of the measures to be adopted by Ghana's Justice System.
She noted that more than a quarter of the prison population was made up of persons awaiting trial on trivial offences, adding: "Many are lost in the system and remain far beyond the time they would have spent if they had been convicted of the alleged crimes."
The Acting Commissioner noted that though the Constitution protected the rights of prisoners, they continued to suffer inhuman and degrading treatment and their rights continued to be violated.
"Sometimes the very 'corrective measures' that are taken do not reform them, but make them vengeful and bitter against the society." She said Prisons and Police cells needed significant improvement to bring them in line with acceptable standards for the treatment of suspects of pre-trial detainees.
Dr Angela Ofori-Atta, Deputy Minister of Employment and Manpower Development, noted that non-custodial sentencing was only useful to non-violent offenders, the young, elderly, chronically ill, pregnant and nursing mothers and people living with disability.
Dr Ofori-Atta called for alternative sentences of such persons, who might commit minor offences to reduce congestion in the prisons. She said Zimbabwe, which had practised non-custodial sentencing had achieved 96 per cent success and urged Ghana to tap the experience. The Deputy Minister listed counselling services, media sensitisation as well as equipping family tribunals and social welfare centres as some of the institutional requirement for the successful implementation of non-custodial sentencing in Ghana.