Ibrahim Oppong Kwarteng, the Executive Director of Crime Check Foundation (CCF), has asked Amnesty International to add naming and shaming component to its report on Prison conditions.
He said this would awaken agencies and individuals that have shirked their responsibilities of ensuring improved Prison conditions.
Mr Kwarteng was speaking at the Annual General Assembly Meeting of Amnesty International, Ghana on the theme: “Improving Prison Conditions in Ghana- A Necessary Step towards the Protection of the Rights of the Prison Inmates”.
He said the laxity of successive Governments over the years in retooling the Prisons Service has equally prevented the Service from adequately meeting the international standards for the handling of prisoners in accordance with the United Nations rules and other international laws.
He said it was not surprising, therefore that out of the 44 prisons in the country, 39 were still relics of the pre-independence era, some of which served as warehouses used by colonialists and merchants.
“Prisons such as Yendi, Gambaga and others are apologies of institutions which by current principles of penal administration should serve as Correctional Centres,” he added.
Mr Kwarteng, who is also the Ambassador Extraordinaire of Prisons, said sixty-two years after independence, the country still warehoused large numbers of human beings in very deplorable conditions.
He said the end result was that most prisoners in Ghana continue to queue in large numbers to visit the toilet, queue to bath, and shit in containers in the full glare of their fellow inmates in congested spaces at night when they did not have access to toilets in the main prison yards.
He said the harsh design of Ghana’s colonial prison cells, poor lighting and ventilation have led to the persistent outbreak of communicable diseases in most of the prisons, leading to the loss of lives of some inmates.
He said to ensure an improvement in prison conditions, Government needed to strengthen prison oversight by following the UK model, where the oversight functions were performed by statutory institutions that have the exclusive legal authority to report on conditions in public and private prisons and other detention facilities.
He also urged the Government to appoint a Chief Inspector of Prisons as “we have in other advanced jurisdictions to report on conditions and treatment of prisoners to promote positive outcomes for those detained.”
He said in the UK for instance, “you usually see the Justice Minister in some discomfort when the Chief Inspector of Prisons is about to present his quarterly report on the Prisons.”
The Ambassador Extraordinaire of Prisons called on Government to privatize some of the Prisons to ensure its effective operations and to reduce the huge costs associated with the running of the country’s 44 public prisons.
He implored Parliament to hasten the passage of the Non-Custodial Sentencing Bill into law and with the law on Community Service, petty offenders could contribute to society by desilting choked gutters, cleaning the streets, and planting for food and jobs among others, instead of throwing them into prison and feeding them with the taxpayers’ money.
“I appeal to the President to grant Amnesty to prisoners to reduce the massive congestion in the country’s prisons,” he added.
He said though the granting of Amnesty was the prerogative of the President and the President alone, he expressed the hope that the President appreciates the suffering of first-time offenders, who needed a second chance in life, the aged and the terminally ill, who do not constitute any threat to society.
He appealed to the Police Administration to put in place an audio-visual recording system that would enable unlettered accused persons to record their statements instead of leaving them in the hands of corrupt policemen to distort the facts.
On huge congestion in prisons, the Executive Director of CCF, said it had come about as a result of absence of alternative punishments by courts for first time offenders, excessive high prison sentences meted out to offenders in the absence of non-custodial options such as Community Service and lengthy trial processes resulting in long stay on remand.
He said it was also because of the unnecessary jailing of large numbers of addicted Cannabis inmates instead of passing the Narcotics Control Commission Bill into law to decriminalize Cannabis use, continuous imprisonment of pregnant women instead of giving them suspended sentences as required by law and Inflation of ages of juveniles by corrupt police officers to have them convicted in walled prisons.
Mr George Aggrey, the Board chairman, Amnesty International, Ghana said the yearly event was to share ideas and deliberate on specific issues the organisation would focus on in the coming year, all aimed at promoting human rights in Ghana.
He said, "this year's theme is birth out of our focus on advancing the welfare and human rights of persons in our Prison, which is part of our ideas or areas of work."
He said Prison condition in Ghana fell far below international standards.
He said the conditions were inhumane and undermine the dignity of people, who found themselves in prison.
The Board Chairman said it was rather unfortunate to note that currently a prisoner in Ghana was allocated 1.80Gp a day.
"Little said about the over-crowding in our Prison here in Ghana the better," he added.
Mr Aggrey said as an organization they were committed to ensuring that all persons were treated equally with dignity and respect including prison inmates.
He said, "we believe that all persons no matter, who they are or where they must be, are able to access basic amenities that promote their wellbeing".