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Opinions of Monday, 25 March 2019

Columnist: DSP. Daniel Machator

Reforming a hungry prisoner: Woes of the Prison Administrator

Prison systems the world over in recent times have a responsibility to ensure the reformation and rehabilitation of prisoners under their care as the era of mere warehousing of offenders is long gone. This they do by taking the prisoner through structured regimes to ensure that upon discharge, the prisoner re-enters society truly reformed.

Food plays a key role in the smooth administration of prisons as it has an influence on the quality of a prisoner’s life as well as his/her commitment to reformation. The unfortunate situation in Ghana’s prison system in this regard is that, our prisoners are fed at a paltry daily ration rate of GH¢ 1.80, translating to GH¢ 0.60 per meal. This rate, which has seen no review in about a decade, leaves the prison administrator in a sore state as he/she strives to reform a virtually hungry prisoner.

Quality and quantity of food served

Prison Standing Orders 228-282 details the prescribed quality and quantity of a prisoner’s meal. The UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners additionally stipulates that “every prisoner shall be provided by the administration at the usual hours with food of nutritional value adequate for health and strength, of wholesome quality and well prepared and served”. The current feeding rate makes it impossible for prison administrators to meet these provisions. Banku and Gari with palm nut soup are served almost every day with occasional variations of beans and rice. Circumstances under which Ghana’s circa 14,000 prisoners are fed thrice a day with the meagre amount is even somewhat magical. The struggle, in most cases, is to provide prisoners with wholesome meals, with little or no attention paid to its quantity.

Most facilities who have made efforts to engage in some form of agriculture to supplement prisoner feeding are hit by reality; inadequate agricultural inputs and machinery. The prison administrator, struggling to meet prisoner feeding requirements, sometimes relies on the benevolence of philanthropists and faith based organizations.

Riots and hunger strikes

Prison riots and disturbances worldwide sometimes result from unheeded pleas by prisoners for an improvement in the quality and or quantity of food served. There are cases in our facilities where prisoners have rioted over food. These riots, which mostly begin with hunger strikes, sometimes lead to the destruction of prison property and in some cases, life threatening physical attacks are visited on prison staff who attempt to enforce order.

Effects of feeding on reformation and rehabilitation

Like earlier intimated, imprisonment has metamorphosed from warehousing of offenders into systems aimed at ensuring their reformation and rehabilitation. This has led to the adoption of structured regimes where professionals such as priests, imams, psychologists and counsellors attempt to realign the way of thinking of prisoners in conformity with acceptable societal standards. Efforts are also made, in cases where machinery and expertise are present, to equip prisoners with employable skills required to live fruitful lives upon release.

Feeding plays a role in these processes in that, a hungry prisoner is unlikely to have the peace of mind and strength required to subscribe to and actively partake in these programmes. This, coupled with other harsh conditions our prisons present, makes the work of the prison administrator more daunting. The result is that, reformation and rehabilitation which have emerged as trends for curing the canker of reoffending are either relegated to the background or abandoned altogether, as the provision of food, a basic necessity, is only partly met.

Imprisonment is punishment enough
Imprisonment, undoubtedly, is punishment enough, so poor and unwholesome food should be off the prisoner’s table to minimize the pains of imprisonment. The discomforts of living under restriction for the entirety of a prisoner’s sentence hits the prisoner so hard, so feeding should not become a tool employed consciously or unconsciously to aggravate their pains.

Feeding fully grown adults with GH¢ 1.80 daily only portrays to prisoners that society still hold grudges against them and probably, employs under-feeding as a tool to pay them back for crimes committed. If the real essence of imprisonment today is corrections, then imprisonment should be devoid of hunger.

The need to increase prisoners’ feeding rate

There is an urgent need for government to review substantially the current feeding rate of prisoners which has stagnated at GH¢ 1.80 for almost a decade.
The burden on the prison administrator as regards prisoner feeding is great as the struggle to get food contractors to regularly supply food items to facilities across the country is gradually being lost due to delays in payment for food items supplied.

An upward adjustment in the rate would ensure that, the prisoner is well fed to put him/her in the right physical and mental state to undergo programmes structured by the Ghana Prisons Service aimed at ensuring that, upon discharge, the ex-convict is not only willing but also able to lead a law abiding life.

Hungry people cannot be good at learning or producing anything, except perhaps violence, said mid-20th century American entertainer Pearl Bailey. Hunger only builds in the prisoner a hatred for society explaining why some ex-convicts re-enter society as peeved individuals, heightening their tendency of reoffending and keeping the unfortunate revolving door of crime wide open.