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General News of Friday, 3 July 2020

Source: dailyheritage.com.gh

Review Amnesty criteria to decongest prisons - POS foundation to President

Facilitators of the Justice For All Programme (POS Foundation) is calling for an immediate review of the Amnesty Criteria for a presidential pardon of prisoners under Article 72 (1) of the 1992 Constitution to enable the President free 24% of the over 15, 000 prisoners across the country.

The call by POS Foundation which is also the lead organization in the advocacy for the Non-Custodial Sentencing Regime was to enable Ghana’s Prisons to stay free of COVID-19 pandemic.

Mr Jonathan Osei Owusu, the Executive Director of POS Foundation said: “the only practicable intervention is the release of prisoners through an immediate review of the amnesty criteria/ presidential pardon under Article 72 (1) of the 1992 constitution which has not changed since the Fourth Republic.”

He said, at this critical moment, where the world struggles to come to terms with the devastating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, the POS Foundation, West Africa Drug Policy Network and Harm Reduction Alliance Ghana call on the President, the Council of State and Prisons Service Council to grant Pardon under Article 72 by reviewing the amnesty criteria and proposing the inclusion of Convicted Non-Violent Drug Users (not Trade/traffickers) who are serving below 10 years from the old PNDC Law 236 and petty offenders to assist in decongesting the Prisons.

“Governments around the world are urged to dispensed preventive and palliative measures by providing relief to some sections of the population and make prison decongestion a priority, review laws to allow for non-custodial sentences for certain offences such as drug use, petty non-violent offences that do not pose a threat to society,” Mr Osei Owusu made this call during the commemoration of the world Drugs Day in Accra.

We’re ready to sacrifice

He said “The POS Foundation and its Partners together with its donor agencies are willing to support the State for non-violent Convicted Drug Users who may need treatment to go through a period of rehabilitation and treatment within the pardon process period which is also in accordance with the new Narcotics Control Commission Law 2020 and international best practices as they pose no major threat to society but to themselves.

“The well-documented history of the transmission of infectious diseases in prisons rings alarm bells. Across countries where the coronavirus has caused harm to human lives so far, prisons have been a substantial locus for its spread and present a focus for reform.

“This have caused the release of prisoners by many governments such as 381 in California, 381, Iran 54,000, Afghanistan released 10,000 prisoners, Indonesia 30,000 and Ethiopian 4,011 prisoners,” he noted.

Over 24% of minor offenders in prison deserve amnesty

The Executive Director of Post Foundation said, “owing to the fact that there are more than 15,000 prisoners in Ghana’s 44 prison facilities across the country of which at least 24% are persons who have committed relatively minor non-violent offences, we extrapolate that two things can be anticipated if the virus enters the prisons;

• It will spread much more rapidly than in the general population due to the high congestion rate of 52% and even as high as over 150% in some prisons. As at January 2020, the Nsawam Medium Security Prisons designed to hold 815 persons is currently home to over 3,459 prisoners. The Akuse prison holds 207 against a design capacity of 60, while the Koforidua prisons also hold 683 against a design capacity of 300 as per records from the Prison Service of Ghana.

• There is likely to be more deaths in prisons than in the general population due to the weak immune system of most of the prisoners as a result of malnourishment from the food provided on the GHC 1.80 pesewas per prisoner feeding grant. As is the case, persons in prisons tend to have poorer health, including chronic conditions that predispose them to the worst effects of COVID-19.

Already, due to the overcrowding situation, the spread of communicable diseases coupled with inadequate medical supply have been a challenge to the Ghana Prison Service.

Recommendations

• Amnesty/Release those who are vulnerable and pose a low-level threat to public safety, i.e. elderly, pregnant women, children, people awaiting trial, people who cannot afford bail, people with less than one year to serve, those charged with low-level offences, e.g. drug use or possession, non-violent inmates awaiting trial.

• Implement alternatives to detention, pre-trial detention and imprisonment, e.g. warnings, community service, suspended sentence, offer voluntary access to drug treatment and harm reduction services, while ensuring follow-up care after a person is released, e.g. ensure access to welfare benefits, food, housing, employment and healthcare as needed.

Immediate amnesty

He said “Users of Narcotics (not traffickers) – with reference to the newly passed Narcotics Control Commission Act. Marijuana/Narcotic usage must be looked at from the public health perspective and some may possibly be given rehabilitative treatment rather than incarceration.

He added that “Marijuana users of non- violent crimes should be considered to be part of the amnesty criteria with reference to current global best practice and well as Petty Offenders.”

According to him, “this swift intervention is critical to protect the health and well-being of prisoners, the general public and ensuring public safety concerns should there be an outbreak of the virus in Ghana’s Prisons.

“We urge the government to support the Ghana Prisons Service with the necessary and protective tools for prison officers and visitors and to put in strict precautionary measures to prevent imported cases of the virus into the prisons.

The Foundation has worked in partnership with Judiciary (under the direct supervision of the Office of the Chief Justice), the Ministry of Interior and Attorney General’s Department to develop the first draft of the Community Service Bill and the ongoing draft of the Legislative Instrument (LI) and Constitutional Instrument (CI) for the activation of Probation and Parole.

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