“The only meal we receive in a day is gari. We once in a long while receive soup which is as plain as water. We are forced to dig pits and ordered to cover them again. Nobody is concerned about our health so death is a normal happening in Nsawam Prison. We are allowed to smoke ‘weed’ and use other hard drugs”.
The narrative above is just a small portion of stories we hear from friends and family members who serve prison sentences in Ghana. The issues mentioned and others go a long way in building misconceptions in the minds of Ghanaians about our prison system.
This piece seeks bring to the attention of all what the real situation in our prisons look like.
Diversion of donations to homes
A major misconception in the public is the belief that officers cart food items donated to prisoners by benevolent individuals to their homes.
All donations are received by the Officer in Charge of the receiving facility or an officer he/she delegates. Stations are required to submit to prisons headquarters returns on donations received on monthly basis. This regimented system makes it impossible for any individual to divert donated items to their homes as mostly alleged.
Some individuals or groups however make specific donations to prison facilities or the prison administration. The items which mostly include but not limited to stationery and office equipment aid in the smooth running of the prison system. Their usage, though indirectly, still has the inmate as the beneficiary.
The Ghana Prisons Service thrives a lot on the magnanimity of benevolent individuals and organizations and so receives a nasty blow when such allegations are made.
Overcrowding and poor sanitation
Recent documentaries about the state of our prisons present a very disturbing sight to the eye. Stories of people arranged like sardines were confirmed when cameras were allowed into our prisons. The bare fact is, Ghana’s prisons are overcrowded. Prisons in the country have a total capacity of about 9000. The current inmate population stands at 14,288. The Nsawam Medium Security Prison which has a capacity of about 800 houses close to 3500 inmates.The situation makes it almost impossible to guarantee the sanitation of our prisons as facilities to support hygiene are overly stretched.
The issue of homosexuality in prison is as delicate as it is in the Ghanaian society as our society frowns on it. There are however isolated cases where some inmates have attempted to, or engaged in sexual acts with others. These cases are quickly brought to the attention of prison authorities for appropriate action to be taken.
Conjugal visits are not allowed in Ghanaian prisons as pertains elsewhere and so inmates during their prison sentence have no access to the opposite sex. All forms of sexual relationships are therefore disallowed.
The issue of hard drugs
Prisons in Ghana have been portrayed as ‘tertiary warehouses’ for drug users and traders. There have been media reports of inmates alleging that hard drugs like marijuana and heroin are easy to come by in the prison than they are outside. Others claim that officers have an unimpeded passageway for these drugs at prison gates.
Once the prison is a total institution (an institution where all activities are regulated by authority), there are individuals who would attempt to enjoy old habits. Some inmates in this regard contract friends, family members and in some cases prison officers to smuggle these prohibited items to them.
The Ankaful Maximum Security and Nsawam Medium Security Prisons alone recorded over 20 interceptions of assorted prohibited items at their gates in 2017. These interceptions point to the fact that the prison system is doing a lot to prevent inmates from getting access to these drugs.
The trial and dismissal of an officer of Ankaful Maximum Security Prison for smuggling marijuana into the facility are testaments of the Service’s quest to keep hard drugs out of our prisons.
Some areas of need
The Ghana prison system which was hitherto an isolated and secluded portion of society is gradually opening up. Recent documentaries and interviews have uncovered never seen areas of our facilities. This bold move by the prison administration is geared towards the proverbial ‘selling your sickness so as to find its cure’.
Trade learning workshops should be established across all prison establishments in the country to present inmates with opportunities to acquire employable skills.
Smaller prison facilities should be established in all districts to help decongest our prisons and improve sanitation.
With cheap labour and land already available, the Service should resourced to engage in large scale farming in furtherance of government’s planting for food and jobs programme.
Inmate feeding rate of GH 1.80 per inmate daily is woefully inadequate and should be adjusted substantially.
Cars should be procured for transporting inmates to court, hospital, labour sites and for transferring them between facilities.
The general public is entreated to take special interest in the operations of the Ghana Prisons Service as the Service gives meaning to the country’s criminal justice system by ensuring that offenders serve their sentences.