Her Ladyship, Justice Sophia Akuffo, Chief Justice of Ghana, has noted that many of the reforms in Ghana's justice delivery system are long overdue adding that the enactment of a Non-Custodial Sentencing Bill is a challenge to the nation.
She made these remarks at a multi stakeholder conference on the Non-Custodial Sentencing Policy Zero Draft Bill held at the Accra City Hotel on 10th October, 2018.
Her Ladyship said that technology has been used to ease criminal case tracking from the point of arrest to prosecution. This way, she said, people and cases that get lost in the system will be a thing of the past.
She disclosed that a prison court is to be opened in the Kumasi Prisons and later Tamale Prisons to help with decongestion by looking at other cases aside remand.
She said that multiplicity of enactments has been one of the country's problems in the enactment of the bill. She suggested that before the finalization of the draft bill a few changes be made. She said the caption "Non-Custodial Sentencing" gives the impression that the existing sentencing regime under the criminal and other offences procedure,Act 30, does not provide for non-custodial sentencing which is not the case citing instances under the Act that indicates other forms.
"I do share in the idea that important and higher types of sentencing should be reserved for serious or aggravated offences such as murder, robbery and galamsey" she added.
She said that the bill should therefore be seen as adding other forms of sentencing such as community service, parole, probation etc. She also urged the drafting of mechanisms to manage all the Non-Custodial Sentences.
She said "we have stuck to those that are easy to manage because we are yet to identify the scope of activities of institutions and systems and how it will be supervised or managed" she pointed out. She therefore urged a look at how supervision will be done for those on parole, community service and so on and encouraged more social interventions.
The Ambassador of Denmark to Ghana, Her Excellency Tove Degnbol, said that it is Denmark's key ambition to support initiatives that promote human rights and social justice. She said "we believe the Zero Draft Bill represents a milestone in Ghana's efforts to promoting access to Justice for All including those who are vulnerable".
She said that the Non-Custodial Bill when passed into a law will affirm Ghana's quest for the protection of all citizens’ rights in accordance with international standards. Every individual, she added, should be equal before the law and it is the state's responsibility to guarantee people's rights including fair trial and rehabilitation.
H.E Degnbol said that after visits to some of the prisons, she has noted that though prison staff and officials are doing the best, the issue of overcrowding cannot be overlooked. She said that the Non-Custodial Sentencing will guarantee prisoners' rights and reduce prison congestion among others. She said experience has shown that Non-Custodial Sentencing shows a reduction in the number of prisoners who return to prison. She encouraged stakeholders to ensure passing of the bill without delay.
Representing the Minister of Interior, Mr Ambrose Dery, Chief Director for the Ministry of Interior , Mrs. Adelaide Anno-Kumi said that overcrowding alone results in a burden on the budget allocated to the Ghana Prisons Service. She said overcrowding comes with the spread of diseases and affects the dignity of persons.
"Some prison facilities were colonial handouts which have seen no renovations over the years" she said. She added that the need for parole, community services and so on are imperative and policies like this are encouraged to help in addressing them.
Chief Executive Director for Perfecter Of Sentiments (POS) Foundation, Mr Jonthan Osei Owusu gave a presentation on the overview of Ghana's Prisons
System since pre-colonial times, which is where overcrowding first began. He said that prisons in Ghana have a total authorised capacity of 9,875 but as at the end of September 2018, the number of prisoners stood at 15,063 indicating a 52.2 per cent increase.
Also, as at December 2017, the male convicts ratio was 11,923 while that of females stood at 131, a total of 12,014 with a meager feeding fee of GHC 1.80 per day. The male to female ratio, he said, is at 95 to 1.
As part of interventions therefore, the Ghana Prisons Project has been introduced to train inmates and officers as paralegals to represent cases themselves.
He gave an insight into the public's view of non custodial sentencing. C.O.P Prosper Agblor, Director General for Legal and Prosecutions (Ghana Police Service) who represented the Inspector General of Police, Mr David Asante-Appeatu said that the bill will help in decongestion and give the opportunity for rehabilitation outside the confines of the prison. He suggested enough public education before the bill is passed to encourage the public to embrace it.
D.O.P Sylvester Rabbles, Director of the Prisons, said that the current overcrowding rate stood at 52.9 per cent with a population of 15,094. He urged the need for legal reforms to offer other alternatives to the Justice For All Program and the Paralegal Units in the prisons.
The Non-Custodial Sentencing or Alternative Sentencing refers to punishment given by a court of law that does not involve a prison term.
It includes community service order, probation order, supervision order (parole), drug testing and treatment order among others.
The bill states that the law will help to reduce prison congestion, control overcrowding, promote human rights to bring Ghana in line with the International and UN regulation for the rights of prisoners and also strengthen Criminal Justice Delivery in Ghana.
The bill indicates that countries such as Zimbabwe, Latvia and Russia have effectively applied such a strategy.
Other speakers at the conference were Mr Richard Ackom Quayson, Deputy Commissioner of the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice
(CHRAJ); Mrs Anita Ababio, Executive Director of the Law Reforms Commission; Ms Sandra Thompson, a Lawyer. Also present were members of the
Ghana Bar Association, Ghana Police Council, Ghana Prisons Council and the media.