General News of Tuesday, 13 February 2001

Source: Ghanaian Chronicle

Chraj Boss Decries Prison Conditions

A one-day workshop for 80 prison officers drawn from the Volta and Eastern regions has ended at Ho under the auspices of the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ).

The objective of the workshop was to enhance prison officers' appreciation of fundamental human rights and freedoms under the 1992 Constitution and under the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. It also sought to promote greater democracy, transparency and good governance through the development of best practices in crime control and prison management in the country.

The officers were taken through such topics as International and Domestic Legal Instruments on Prisoners Rights and Prison Conditions, Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms under the 1992 Constitution of Ghana, Principles, Procedures and Practice Issues in Investigating Prisons and Police Cells, the CHRAJ Experience and the International System for the Protection of Human Rights. The Commissioner for CHRAJ, Mr. Francis Emile Short, decried the living conditions in police cells and prisons and called for drastic measures towards the improvement saying "A suspect, or even a convicted prisoner does not lose his right to human dignity".

"We not only have a moral obligation to respect their dignity as human beings but it is a legal and constitutional obligation as well", he explained and said steps must be taken to put prisons and police cells in conditions that would befit them as places for accommodating human beings. The Commissioner appealed to judges and police officers to pay occasional visits to the prisons in order to be conversant with conditions there to enable them avoid the tendency of compounding problems of congestion and the burden of feeding the teeming prison population.

Emile Short hinted that CHRAJ will continue inspecting prisons and police cells with the objective of identifying and highlighting for redress any violations of the rights of persons incarcerated in the country's penal system and stressed that where appropriate his outfit would take steps to defend in court violations of prisoners rights. Another serious problem, which has not been addressed, is the high number of remand prisoners who have been in custody without trial for periods ranging from months to seven years.

This latter problem, Mr. Short said, required urgent attention since among other things, it negates the presumption of innocence, which is a cardinal principle in the country's justice system. The Commissioner expressed disgust at the congestion and overcrowding in many prisons describing.