The government has completed a draft bill on non-custodial sentencing to be laid before Parliament for promulgation to provide alternative sentencing options in the country.
The options proposed in the bill include probation, parole and community service.
Parole is the temporary or permanent release of a prisoner before the expiry of a sentence, on the promise that he or she will be of good behaviour.
Those alternatives to custodial sentencing, according to the Vice-President, Dr Mahamudu Bawumia, held great potential to decongest prisons in the country and significantly reduce the financial burden in the management of the prison system.
Dr Bawumia made this known in Accra yesterday at the graduation of Intake 27 Officer Cadets of the Ghana Prisons Service (GPS).
He said the Prisons Administration, in collaboration with other stakeholders, was leading the advocacy for the alternative sentencing policy to be introduced in the country.
He said the necessary operational adjustments, including the human resource capacity to shoulder the additional responsibilities, were being worked on.
The 150-member Intake 27 Officer Cadets, made up of 113 males and 37 females, commenced training at the Prisons Training School on January 17, this year, after an initial five-week practical attachment in prisons across the country.
There was a colourful parade, with the Vice-President as the Reviewing Officer, which saw the officer cadets march past in slow and quick procession, as well as in review order, beautifully executed to thunderous applause from the sizable crowd of mostly family members, in strict observance of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) safety protocols.
It is the fourth consecutive training the GPS has completed this year.
Also at the ceremony were the Minister for the Interior, Mr Ambrose Dery, and the Director-General of the GPS, Mr Patrick D. Missah.
Resourcing security services
Dr Bawumia said President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo had, in the past three and a half years as leader of the country and Commander-in-Chief of the Ghana Armed Forces (GAF), demonstrated his commitment to resource all the security services to ensure that Ghanaians lived in peace and harmony.
He said the commitment of the government to ensure that the GPS had adequate resources to do its work had led to a number of interventions, which included the expansion of the manpower base of the service.
“I am happy to inform you that the service received approval for the recruitment of 1,500 young men and women who began training late last year. The graduation parade we are witnessing today is the climax of the last of four batches of new entrants into the service under the intervention,” he said.
Touching on health, Dr Bawumia said the government was working closely with the GPS to improve the health system within the prisons, especially in this era of the COVID-19.
That, he said, was because the disease spread quickly in enclosed environments such as prisons, which were the common epicentres for infectious diseases, stressing that the situation was of great concern to the government, particularly where there was overcrowding.
The Vice-President said aside from the 40 medical officers seconded from the Ghana Health Service to the GPS, the government had also provided prison establishments with personal protective equipment (PPE), infrared thermometers, liquid soap, tissue paper, as well as Veronica buckets, to help inmates and wardens to practise the hygiene protocols.
“Further to the efforts to strengthen the fight against the COVID-19, the President assented to the Presidential Amnesty for some categories of prisoners on January 7 and May 1, this year, to free 1,589 inmates from prisons to mitigate the impact of overcrowding,” he said.
The Vice-President also announced that about 90 per cent of Ghana’s prison population had been covered under the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), including fresh registration, renewal and replacement, all done at no cost to the inmates.
On accommodation, Dr Bawumia said the President last year requested the contractors working on accommodation facilities for officers of the GPS to go back to site to complete blocks of flats at the Ankaful, Nsawam and Roman Ridge prisons.
He said the work was progressing steadily, noting that when completed, it would help ease the accommodation challenges of the service.
“Let me also add that the Cabinet has approved the placement of all security agencies under a single pension scheme, CAP 30, which is already enjoyed by the military,” he said.
He expressed delight at the manner in which the GPS continued to discharge its mandate to ensure that opportunities for developing the skills and talents of inmates were available to help them reorganise their lives for the better, adding that programmes such as agriculture, trade, vocational training and formal education were available for offenders who were of school age.
The Vice-President expressed regret that some members of society were still reluctant to accept ex-convicts back into their fold and continued to stigmatise former prison inmates.
He said the unfortunate development often forced ex-convicts back to offending life, which came with dire consequences for society.
He, therefore, appealed to the public to see prisoner integration as a shared responsibility and offer the necessary support to ex-convicts.
“Anything short of this will render all the efforts by the GPS fruitless, and society will be at risk,” he emphasised.
Dr Bawumia reminded the graduating officers of their responsibilities and urged them not to abandon the valuable instructions and training they had received.
“Abide by the rules and regulations that guide your conduct as prison officers and direct your energies towards self-improvement,” he advised them.