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Opinions of Saturday, 13 July 2019

Columnist: Samson Lardy Anyenini

Samson's Take: A heart of love; Applying even criminal law - II

I have been thrilled at the love that has forced open the prison doors for the barber sent to jail for two months (with hard labour) for his inability to pay ¢600 fine slapped on him for stealing plantain in Koforidua.

Last Saturday, Samuel Okudzeto-Ablakwa asked that we did more than using Samson’s Take to highlight the story. By Monday, a Good Samaritan had already offered the full amount. Right here on NewsFile, we had almost double the amount and soon, a client and friend in the USA added a 100 dollars.

The 19-year-old has since been reunited with his girlfriend and little child for whose care he claimed he had to steal the plantain. Well, this young mum will now start a small business as the orphaned Solomon gets good counsel to commit to hard work despite his circumstances at any point in time.

I have read the praise, empathy and criticisms alike. But please don’t miss the central point of my piece. The point was and still is that we must work at a non-custodial sentencing regime because it doesn’t make sense to throw people in overcrowded jails for petty offences. True reformation, which must be the chief aim we punish for crime, is never realised in a system that has all the conditions turning even innocent first-time offenders into hardened criminals.

Like Solomon, this week we have been introduced to a similar story. Joyce, the 18-year-old single mum also claims she stole spoons of milo and five pieces of cloths so she could cater for her little child. This got her a month’s jail sentence plus a fine of ¢9,600 cedis. A property bequeathed to her was set to be sold to pay off the fine until help came her way.

Even if this is who Solomon and Joyce really are, I am prepared to give them a second chance. I believe when even criminal law is applied with a heart of love, even hardened criminals may consider changing and charting a new path of returning the love.

Those who steal and mismanage money that could be used to improve living conditions and set up the non-custodial system, get away with murder when they face the same laws. They are hardly harassed at police stations or denied bail.

Now, there a rarely heard of the news that even the executive is acting lawlessly and with such impunity that a man granted bail by a court, after an inordinately long period in detention, Afoko, is still in BNI cells. The state must also conduct itself in a way that encourages general respect for law and order, this will engender law-abiding conduct to promote a happy and peaceful society.

I attended to Ernesto Yeboah and Abeku Adams before police could take their statements. I gave them counsel and felt their justification for the #DropThatChamber civil disobedience that got them arrested in parliament.

We hardly throw the rich, powerful and connected, stealing millions of borrowed money meant for a hospital or school, into those filthy crowded dungeons. Let community service be the default alternate punishment for the poor caught stealing milo, plantain, chicken and goat.

The ultimate end of criminal law isn’t to exact corporal punishment only but to lovingly correct and reform. This must be the attitude of judges, the police, prosecutors and all those involved in the criminal justice system.