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General News of Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Source: GNA

State agencies supposed to visit prisons shun that responsibility - Prisons Ambassador

Mr. Ibrahim Oppong Kwarteng, the Executive Director of Crime Check Foundation, says it is unfortunate that agencies required under the law to conduct periodic visits to prisons have not been able to live up to their responsibilities.

These agencies are the Attorney General’s Department, CHRAJ, the Department of Legal Aid, Social Welfare, Mental Health Authority and the Ministry for the Interior.

Mr Kwarteng told the Ghana News Agency at the just ended Annual General Assembly Meeting of Amnesty International, Ghana in Keta that the visits were to assess the conditions in the Prisons and report to Government for the necessary action to be taken.

The meeting was on the theme: “Improving Prison Conditions in Ghana- A Necessary Step towards the Protection of the Rights of the Prison Inmates”.

“How, then can we have improved prison conditions, when the agencies required by law to conduct periodic visits appear not to be proactive,” he asked.

Mr Kwarteng, who is also the Ambassador Extraordinaire of Prisons, said the media was also required to mirror society by reporting on such infractions.

However, it appears that extending the media’s accountability function into Prisons has been largely difficult.

The Executive Director said the fourth estate was usually prevented from doing so because of the excuse usually used by Governments and Prison authorities that prisons were security institutions, and so, should be immune from media spotlight.

He said such an excuse, however, defeated the principal objective of security sector reform, which was to ensure that security establishments were democratically and accountably managed without undermining human rights and development.

“But such an excuse is not surprising because prisons whether publicly or privately operated, have a long history of hiding operational shortcomings by invoking the mantle of facility security concerns,” he said.

Mr Kwarteng said media access to prisons was important because the fourth estate was usually known for presenting an inaccurate picture of crime and punishment, leading to increased support for punitive policies.

He said media access would, therefore, enable the media to vividly describe to the public, perceived abuses within prisons, and highlight the range of challenges facing prison staff as they grapple with a rising prison population.

He said, as an Organisation, they have brought out many documentaries detailing how most inmates sleep in turns.

“If the Nsawam Medium Security Prison built for seven hundred inmates after independence and which now accommodates close to four thousand inmates comes as a surprise to you, then the Kumasi Central Prison built for four hundred inmates now houses close to the same figure as Nsawam,” he said.