BY MUNTALLA INUSAH
THE GHANA Prisons Service (GPS) is disturbed by the rate at which persons who are mentally troubled are being sentenced to prison terms as their punishment instead of giving them treatment.
According to the Service, 25% of 13, 500 prisoners in the country needs psychiatric treatment instead of custodial punishment, a development it said has contributed to the congestion rates at the 43 housing prisons across the country. The 25% represents 3,375 inmates who are mentally deranged.
Superintendent Vitalis A-Iyeh, the Chief Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the GPS, told the DAILY HERITAGE in an interview in Accra yesterday that, “We have a lot of mad men in the prisons, because we don’t have the facilities to test them.”
“When some need treatment, they need to go to psychiatry, they need social services, they need to be evaluated, but because the person has caused harm, and caused damage, he is arrested, and taken to court and jailed. But, to be frank with you, about 25% of our prisoners need treatments and not punishment,” he added.
Prisons over-crowded by 300%
Supt A-Iyeh explained that the service is bedevilled with numerous logistic challenges, which is hindering their efforts in reforming the inmates as per the Service’s core mandate as an institution, a development that has led to the congestion rate increasing by over 300%.
He said, “Our case is logistics to work with and the fact that once the logistics are not there, it is very difficult to carry out our mandate of reformation and rehabilitation successfully. We are doing something, but then not the best as we wish we could do and when that happens, it affects inmates and their health.
He continued: “Feeding somebody for GH¢1.80 a day is not something which is healthy because it is woefully inadequate for an adult, so on the part of the officers, we lack logistics and on the part of the prisoners themselves, we should improve upon their accommodation and their feedings because they are over-crowded by over 300% and we can only change the situation when we have logistics.”
Review the laws
According to the Chief PRO, the courts should be given the opportunity to refashion the laws of this country, and should not be that the judges have only two options,(a fine or a sentence) as a way of dealing with offenders.
He explained that, “Sometimes people could not pay their fine and so they are made to go to prisons, “so let engage the security service and the judiciary to improve upon it [the situation].
“We have sent a proposal to Parliament to seek non-custodial sentences for people depending on the nature of the crime they commit, because in all parts of the world, including East and Central Africa, they have community service, they have all these that would not send you to prisons, or on site, so that would decongest the prisons.”
Priorities security bill
The Chief PRO, however, called on lawmakers to prioritise the security bill sent to Parliament some seven years ago since it borders on the security of this country.
“Unlike the other countries, we don’t have anything like that here, so once it is going to be laws, we (GPS) don’t enact laws, it will come from the lawmakers (parliament). They should expedite action on the bail we sent to parliament in 2011 and work on it so it becomes law.
“When somebody has stolen fingers of plantain, since we want this country to be clean, why can’t we ask this person to do community work to clean a portion of the city for a specific period on a daily basis? If we ask him to do community work, it would be better,” he stated.
He said, “There is contamination in the prisons because they are over-crowded. Classification and separation is not working out inside the prisons because per the standards we have, we are not supposed to have first-time criminals to mingle with hardened criminals but because we lack the facilities we put them together and they learn from the hardened criminals.
According to Supt A-Iyeh, even though Parliament may have priorities, “the bill is about our security. If this is not done, it would have negative implications, because the mandate of the prison service “is for the safe custody of the prisoners, their welfare, reformation and rehabilitation.”
He told the paper that for safe-keeping, “we are doing well, but for for reformation we need the tools. If somebody is interested to be a carpenter, do we have the tools? No. Somebody is interested to be a plumber and he needs the tools, do we have the tools,? No, so the person can’t be reformed.”
Test the law
He called for citizens to take advantage of the loophole in the system and test the laws, saying, “We think that instead of pushing everybody to prisons, let get them out there to do some work for us and it will help the system in order to decongest the prison system. The freedom of the citizen would be curtailed, if the law makers are not doing it, [so] citizens should try to test the laws.
There are a total of 45 prisons establishments, which are made up of the Prisons Headquarters, the Prisons Training School and 43 facilities housing prison inmates, including the Senior Correctional Centre for the Juveniles in Accra, and Contagious Disease Prison at Ankaful in the Central Region.