The Executive Director of Crime Check Foundation (CCF), Ibrahim Oppong Kwarteng has expressed disappointment in the delay in the passage of the non-custodial sentencing bill into law to help decongest Ghana’s choked prisons.
Mr Oppong Kwarteng who is also the ‘Ambassador Extraordinaire’ of Ghana Prisons insisted that there’s no justification for the undue delay in passing this law to avoid jailing petty offenders to live in the same environment with hardened criminals.
He was speaking at a sensitisation workshop for vagrants in the Awutu Senya East Municipality of the Central Region.
Community sentence also known as alternative sentencing or non-custodial sentence gives a court the authority to punish an offender in different ways other than serving a sentence in prison.
Currently, every breach of the law lands the offender in jail as there’s no law on alternative sentencing.
“Both past and present governments have been dragging their feet towards the passage of the bill into law. There’s no proper classification system in Ghana’s prisons.”
“Nsawam was meant to house 700 prisoners but it currently has a population of about 4,000. Of this number, the inmates are mixed; petty offenders and hardened criminals all share the same rooms for months and years,” he disclosed.
Mr Oppong Kwarteng who has expertise in the prisons system further expressed worry that the current trend poses more danger for the country as some of the petty offenders will come out of the prison learning new things from hardened criminals.
The event, on Decriminalizing Vagrancy Laws And Advocacy aims at educating vagrants on their basic human rights as well as increasing their knowledge on local bye-laws to reduce violations, arrests, fines, and imprisonment of citizens under the laws.
When achieved, the objective will foster an enabling environment for ‘vagrants’; made of the homeless, street hawkers, head porters, vendors, truck pushers, market women, artisans, and other identifiable and vulnerable groups to know, claim and exercise their rights and responsibilities in Ghana.
This is an initiative between the CCF and Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) in collaboration with selected Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies (MMDAs).
The continued imprisonments of petty offenders due to their sources of livelihood is a violation of a ruling by the African Court on Human and People’s Rights’ on vagrancy laws on 4th December 2020 which stipulates that imprisonment of vagrants constitutes an abuse of their rights.Assurance From Government.
Meanwhile, the Attorney General, Godfred Dame in May this year gave an assurance government is in the process of enacting non-custodial sentencing law and was positive the bill will be passed into law before the current Parliament expires.
Ghanareport quoted Mr Dame saying “we first have to seek policy approval for the enactment of a law and when the approval is given, we have to come back to draft it. After drafting, we have to submit it for stakeholder consultation, and that process is very long. It is time-consuming and resource-intensive as well.”
“After the stakeholder consultation, we will submit it to the cabinet. Cabinet will also consider the bill and changes will be made before the Attorney General forwards it to Parliament for consideration and passage. We are therefore working on the passage of a Community Sentencing law,” he was quoted to have said.
However, Mr Kwarteng advised the participants against challenging the authority of the assembly by deliberately flouting its bye-laws.
“We are here to teach you about your rights, what the assemblies need to do is to better your lives but also ensure that you have a role to play in the development of your community; you must obey the bye-laws and comply with the assembly,” he reiterated. About OSIWA.
The Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), established in 2000, is a grant-making and advocacy organization focused on equality, justice, democratic governance, human rights, and knowledge generation. It is part of the global network of Open Society Foundations spread across 37 countries around the world.
The one-year project is being rolled out in 12 metropolitan assemblies in three regions: Greater Accra, Ashanti, and Central.
It will sensitize 1200 vagrants on their rights and responsibilities to prevent any misunderstandings with the assemblies.
Monitoring and Evaluation
To monitor the progress and effectiveness of the Decriminalizing Vagrancy Laws and Advocacy project, a contact centre will be created after the sensitization to address the concerns of vagrants at the partnering organization, Crime Check Foundation.
The project started in May 2021 and is expected to end in May 2022.