Everybody is a potential prisoner yet almost everyone enjoying freedom loses cognizance of the fact that we must rise up together and demand prisoners in this country be treated like human beings.
Several reports have pointed to the fact that prisoners are treated inhumanely in our part of the world which many ex-convicts have also confirmed starting from the unbearable congestion, insufficient meals, and queuing to use lavatories among others.
Delay in justice administration has even compounded the situation as thousands of persons who have been kept in various prisons across the country are on remand.
This is heartbreakingly unfair because subjecting individuals who have not been declared guilty of committing the crimes they are being accused of by a competent court of jurisdiction is a stamp on their human rights.
There are 47 prison establishments in Ghana including 12 major male prisons.
The Ghana Prisons Service, as of May 2, 2022, had an inmate population of 14,097, which far exceeds the national authorized figure of 9,945.
Mr. Isaac Kofi Egyir, the Director-General, Ghana Prisons Service, who revealed this in a speech read on his behalf at a training programme for court reporters held in Accra recently said the issue of overcrowding remained a challenge to the service as large numbers of inmates competed for the limited resources at the various prisons across the country.
The Justice for All Programme, he said had to some extent reduced overcrowding in the prisons from 72.41 percent in 2007 to 35.11 percent as of September 27, 2021.
Despite this slight improvement, resources at the various prisons remain woefully inadequate.
Many calls by some NGOs, like the Crime Check Foundation for government to expedite action in passing the bill of non-custodial sentencing into law seem to have fallen on deaf ears, probably because addressing the plight of the prisoner in Ghana can never be among the priorities of authorities.
Alternative sentencing for persons who commit minor offences could go a long way in significantly reducing overcrowding at the various prisons.
Philanthropists and institutions must also scale up efforts to improve infrastructure at the prisons.
Many prisoners have complained about the quality of food served at the prisons, according to them, prisoners who were not privileged enough to have their families visiting them were starving in the prisons. Starvation affects the quality of life of whoever is affected, therefore it is important that once these convicts are confined in the various prisons, food insecurity should not be the case.
It is however disheartening to know that in Ghana’s prison system, inmates are fed at a meagre daily ration rate of GHC1.80 a day which means each prisoner is entitled to 60pesewas for each meal.
After many years of calls from well-meaning members of the public to have this reviewed, the rate still remains the same.
Though some prison facilities have ventured into Agriculture to add to the foodstuff government offered prisoners, the yields still remain woefully inadequate.
How can a prisoner be reformed properly if he or she is forgotten and treated inhumanely while in prison? We must not forget that prisoners also have rights that must be protected.
The prisoner’s mental health
Various researches have proven that most prisoners battle various levels of depression due to their incarceration, so making their environment unconducive for human beings worsens their plight.
Access to quality healthcare has always been a major concern for prisoners as many sick inmates are not given the needed medical attention for their health conditions.
Many ex-convicts, who unfortunately fell seriously sick while serving their jail terms have come out to share their harrowing experiences, with some saying they would have died in the prisons where they were kept if they relied solely on the available medical treatment for prisoners.
Abdul Karim Ibrahim, an ex-convict told the Ghanaian Times in an interview that it was his uncle who occasionally sent money to a prison warden within the Nsawam Maximum Security Prison, to buy him some medications he needed to control his blood pressure and also to change the inhaler he used while in prison because he was asthmatic.
“When you are in prison here in Ghana no one cares whether you were on certain medications before your incarceration or not. All they are focused on is the handcuffs and locks.”
“I feel I would have died if I did not receive financial support from outsiders during my stay in prison. This is very sad, especially for some of us who were wrongly accused of the crimes we were imprisoned for,” he added.
I am not advocating for a luxurious life for prisoners but looking at the current state of prisons in the country, I think more must be done to address the situation as a matter of urgency.
The case is better for the female department of some prisons as the number of female inmates is drastically low as compared to the high number of males in the various prisons.
For the rights of persons who have been deprived of their personal liberty to be trampled upon continuously while in prison, especially when there is the possibility of some prisoners being innocent of the crimes they have been accused of or convicted for, is quite heartbreaking so it behooves on all and sundry to rise up and fight for the rights of prisoners across the country, if not for anything at all, these prisoners deserve a decent place to lay their heads at night, proper medical care and a decent meal, even if it is twice a day.