Human rights advocacy group, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), in considering non-custodial sentences in cases of petty offenses or misdemeanour, has called on Parliament to pass the Community Service Bill (non-custodial law) to help decongest Ghana’s prisons and make them more effective.
On the backdrop of that, CHRI and its implementing partners organized a day’s sensitization workshop for some selected journalists in Accra, under the theme, “Community Service Sentencing: A Prerequisite to Enhance Justice Delivery In Ghana”, on Thursday 10th March, 2022, at Tomreik Hotel in Accra.
Mrs. Regina Oforiwaa Amanfo Tetteh, Senior Programs Officer, at the Center for Democratic Development (CDD), on schooling the media on their role in Advancing Alternatives to Imprisonment in Ghana, She said, “The media plays a significant role in forming and influencing people’s attitude and behavior, so it has a great opportunity to support Ghana to succeed in promoting alternatives to incarceration to assist petty offenders to reform themselves for the society to benefit.”
Mrs. Oforiwaa Amanfo Tetteh, urged the media on “Informing and educating the public on changes to the incarccration of minor/petty offences, context, the rolc of citizens in ensuring that alternatives to imprisonment work to help preserve security for all.
Question why incarceration dominates all criminal offences despite the alternatives in the law books. Help focus attention on the need for Ghana to have alternatives to incarceration.
Providing insticucions in the policy formulation stage, (Attorney General, Ministry of Interior, Parliamentary Select Committee on Constitutional, Legal & Parliamentary Affairs, Interior and Employment, Social Welfare and State Enterprise) with feedback from the public on the bill.”
She noted that, in Ghana, radio remains the most dominant news source according to Afrobarometer survey round 8. The same Afrobarometer data also reveals that majority of Ghinaians trust information from the media. So the media’s treatment of crime may influence public opinion and bolster support for punitive penal policies or otherwise.
She further charged journalists to popularize the law on alternative sentencing and provide extensive coverage on benefits of alternative sentencing, form partnership with CSOs to undertake educational activities aimed at sensitizing the general public and criminal justice agencies on the role and purpose of community service and the implementation of community service orders and also serve as a watchdog for accountability on the implementation of the community service.
Mr. Edmund Amarkwri-Foli, Director of Programs at the Institute of Human Rights and Democracy (IHRDA), also underscored the need for the justice system to be retributive, whereby the offender would be reformed and victims would forgive, citing restitution, deterrent among others, which were found in the other, under the non-custodial sentences.
The Ghanaian Judicial System, is empowered with custodial sentences, probation, parole and restricted non-custodial sentence such as fine. This calls for the urgent need for the bill to be passed into a law.
According to him, keeping inmates in an already congested prisons even drains the country’s budget, thus the non-custodial sentences should critically be considered in terms of misdemeanour (offences which attract sentences less than three years).
Mr. Amarkwri-Foli, emphasized that, over the years a large number of poor and marginalized people are found in prison just because they found it difficult to pay their fines.
He added that, the jail terms for these petty offences are unfair to poor people who are the major victims but may not be able to settle their fines. This he said calls for alternative punishment for offenders of petty offences, like the Community Service Sentencing other than jail terms.
He said such offences must be decriminalized from Ghana’s laws. Considering the fact that Ghana’s prisons are over choked and do not achieve the core mandate of reforming offenders.
He disclosed that, currently, Ghana’s prisons are overcrowded by about 52%, so many convicts are mingled with hardened criminals who have committed serious crimes. They either end up being trained by these criminals to commit serious crimes in society should they go out.
He further called for timely public education to avoid stigmatisation where citizens would be encouraged to get on board to help reintegrate ex-convicts.
Ms. Mina Mensah, Director of CHRI Africa Office, posited that since 2017 the Africa Office has been advocating for decriminalising of petty offences in Ghana. Policy makers according to her have acknowledged the needs for a change in the law, however, there is no appetite to put in any action because, there isn’t any pressure on the government to do so.
There is the need for a holistic approach in order to win this fight. Therefore, Ms. Mina Mensah, expressed that, CHRI’s is ever committed to partner with other civil society organisations to promote acceptance by policy makers to decriminalise petty offences to ensure the decongestion of Ghana’s overpopulated prisons.
Ms. Gifty Quaye, Assistant Director, Ministry of Interior, on her part noted that, it is the Ministry’s priority to pass the Non-Custodial Bill, in relation to the Criminal Offence Act.
However, She requested the media to enhance its awareness creation and educate the public on the concept and benefits of community service sentencing, as well as the other non-custodial sentencing in our laws. Saying, “This will go a long way to reduce or change the public mindset on the notions such as ‘let the punishment fit the crime’, be the implementation commences.