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Opinions of Thursday, 30 August 2007

Columnist: Adu, Ernest Kofi

Ghana's Criminal Justice System

MORE THAN twenty years ago, Political Scientist James Wilson made the persuasive argument that most criminals are not poor unfortunates who commit crimes to survive. On the contrary, they are greedy people who choose theft or drug dealing for quick and easy profits.

According to him, criminals lack inhibition against misconduct or eccentricity, value the excitement and thrills of breaking the law, have a low stake in conformity, and are willing to take greater chances than the average person. To him, if criminals could be convinced that their actions will bring severe punishment, only the irrational would be willing to engage in crime. Restraining offenders and preventing their future misdeeds, he argued, is a much more practical goal of the criminal justice system than trying to eradicate the root causes of crime: poverty, poor social amenities (like schools and hospitals), family breakups and other economic deprivations.

He made this famous observation: “Wicked people exist. Nothing avails except to set them apart from innocent people. And many people, neither wicked nor innocent, but watchful, dissembling, and calculating of their chances, ponder our reaction to wickedness as a clue to what they might profitably do.”

His views help define Ghana’s perspective on the criminal justice system and its usage. The experts call it the Crime Control Model. The model has it that people commit crimes because they do not feel afraid of the consequences and that giving or handing out tough sanctions (hard punishments) to those who choose to violate the law will unequivocally deter potential criminals from committing law violations.

The Crime Control Model wants the focus of justice to be on the victim, not the criminal, so that innocent people can be protected from the negative effects of crime. The model hopes to achieve this through more effective police protection and hard punishment, including the ‘liberal’ use of the death penalty.

Ghana has consistently used this model in fighting crime since independence and even in the colonial days where the police institution was called a police force. For all these years, can practitioners and policymakers of this country say with their chest out that Ghana has reduced crime considerably?

The answer is no. Crime has not reduced since and public safety is still hanging in a balance amidst trampling of individual freedom and ill-maintenance of social justice. That makes the call for a review of the criminal justice system just and prudent. Now, I am compelled to say (that) the violent punishing acts of the state are not dissimilar from the violent acts of individual criminals; two wrongs do not make one right.

It is obvious that Ghana’s response to crime has been almost exclusively punitive with relatively little effects on crime reduction.

50 years of nationhood, we need not be told again that the usage of the prevailing model has not made the magic and therefore, Ghana has to switch onto other models like the rehabilitation and restoration theories that seek to tackle the root causes of crime.

It has been established that crime can also be controlled by giving people the means to improve their lives through conventional endeavours since crime is now seen by most people as an expression of frustration and anger created by social inequalities.

The Government can help reduce crime at both macro (society) and micro (individual) levels by making the criminal justice system as a means of caring for and treating the country’s citizens who cannot manage themselves and will choose crime as their means of livelihood.

Research shows that as the number of legitimate opportunities to succeed declines, people are likely to turn to criminal behaviour, such as armed robbery and drug dealing, to survive.

On the macro level, Government has to increase economic opportunities through job training and creation, education services, and other essentially social services.

On the micro level, advocates of the Rehabilitation Model say counseling service, and crisis intervention programmes deemed as legitimate alternatives to crime, must be instituted to take care of the wayward people in the country. They argue that even those found in trouble with the law can avoid recidivism if placed in an effective, well-designed treatment facility that can reduce repeat offending.

While I appreciate, it will come with additional costs, it is best paid now than later, and this is why I say it is exigent, but crucial for the nation to review the system. In other jurisdictions, same is being done and Ghana must follow suit now.

The writer, is a journalist with The Chronicle newspaper and a human rights activist in Kumasi

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.