A senior official of the Ghana Prisons Service (GPS) Thursday expressed worry over the increasing number of remand cases in the country?s prisons.


Matilda Baffour Awuah, Controller-General of the GPS, said during the launch of a two-day forum on non-custodial sentencing that the development had contributed to the soaring up of the prisoner population.
According to statistics from the GPS, the total prisoner population in the West African country as at October 2014 stood at 14,777.

Out of the number, 11,653 are convicts while 3,124, representing 21 percent, are remand cases.
Prisons in Ghana, Awuah, said have overstretched their occupancy rate by more than 50 percent of the original capacity, and attributed the problem to increasing remand cases.
?Indeed, in some prisons like Nsawam, Kumasi, Sunyani, Sekondi, Tarkwa and Tamale, overcrowding rate ranges from 150 to 300 percent each day. This is largely due to the presence of high number of remand prisoners in those prisons,? the Prisons Controller-General said.

Ghana?s current criminal justice system, she noted, focused much more on punitive or retributive justice rather than rehabilitative approaches to the management of offenders, resulting in severe overcrowding in the prisons.
Awuah observed that overcrowding was a key challenge facing almost all prisons across the country, and called for the necessity to construct new prisons in Ghana.

She however stated that ?best practices have shown that trying to overcome the harmful effects of prisons overcrowding through the construction of new prisons does not provide sustainable solution?.
She emphasized that, contrary to popular belief, imprisonment did not always succeed in effective deterrence or rehabilitation of offenders; rather, harsh detention conditions including deprivation and isolation could lead to hardening and breeding of more criminals.

She said numerous international instruments recommend a rationalization in sentencing policy, including the use of alternative to imprisonment, as a result of which various jurisdictions were turning to alternative sanctions other than imprisonment.

The United nations General Assembly in 1990 adopted the Tokyo Rules, a resolution which encouraged member states to consider reducing the use of imprisonment and adopt non-custodial measures within their legal systems.
The current sentencing policy in Ghana, many have argued, is quite restrictive and does not offer many options to judges in their work, hence lot of people end up in jail swelling up the number of prisoners in jail for minor offences.

It is against this backdrop that the two-day forum aimed at developing a legal framework to give judges more sentencing options to decongest the country?s prisons as well as make prison conditions better and internationally acceptable.

By Francis Tandoh


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