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Ghana Table of Contents


Prison System

There was no prison system in traditional Ghanaian society. In the mid-nineteenth century, the British council of merchants established a network of harsh prisons in forts such as Cape Coast Castle. By 1850 four such prisons could hold up to 129 prisoners. Convicts usually worked on road gangs. The Prisons Ordinance of 1860 outlined regulations for the safe-keeping of prisoners. Later ordinances further defined the nature of the colony's prison regimen, or "separate system," which required solitary confinement by night, penal labor, and a minimum diet. By the early 1900s, British colonial officials administered the country's prisons and employed Europeans to work as guards in the prisons. After World War II, Ghanaians gradually replaced these individuals. By 1962 Ghanaians staffed all positions in the prison system.

Under Nkrumah's regime, the government showed little concern for reform and modernization of the penal system. After Nkrumah's overthrow, the National Liberation Council (NLC) authorized a civilian commission to investigate the prison system and to make recommendations for improvements. The commission's report, issued in 1968, revealed numerous problems. Of the country's twenty-nine prisons, nine were judged unfit for human habitation, two were suitable only for police lockups, and thirteen were appropriate only for short-term detainment. Because of corruption and incompetence, however, the NLC failed to act upon the commission's recommendations. As a result, prison conditions continued to be substandard, with poor ventilation, sanitation, and foodpreparation facilities.

Ministerial responsibility for the prison system has shifted periodically since independence, but the operation of prisons is fixed by statute and is divided into adult and juvenile correction. The former is governed by the Prisons Ordinance, which outlines rules for prison operation and treatment of prisoners. The constitution of 1969 established a Prison Service, the director of which is appointed by the chief executive and is responsible to the minister of interior. The Criminal Procedure Code determines procedures for handling young offenders.

The Prisons Service Board formulates prison policy and regulations. The board consists of a Public Services Commission member as chairman, the prison services director, a medical officer of the Ghana Medical Association, a representative of the attorney general, the principal secretary of the Ministry of Employment and Social Welfare, and three other appointed members, one of whom must be a woman and two of whom must be representatives of religious organizations.

To ensure the welfare and the proper treatment of prisoners, the constitution requires the Prisons Service Board to make regulations for the review of prison conditions at intervals of not less than two years. Reports of unjustified treatment of prisoners and recommendations for reform measures are required of the board.

The prisons service is a career establishment with a promotion system based on training and merit; its members have retirement privileges similar to those of other public services. Prisons service standards require one staff member for every three prisoners, but the ratio in many institutions has risen to one to five or more.

Although understaffing has been a long-standing problem, the quality of prison officers and guards has improved over the years. Women are included in both categories. Although recruited from all over the country, prison personnel largely come from the Ewe and Ga ethnic groups. The prisons service maintains a training school and depot at Mamobi, near Accra. This facility offers a six-month training course for senior staff members, special courses for matrons, and preparatory courses for promotion examinations.

The Prisons Service Board also administers the country's prisons. As 1992, the most recent year for which data was available, the prison system consisted of twenty-seven institutions, including six central prisons for men at Accra (Ussher Fort and James Fort), Sekondi, Kumasi, Tamale, and Nsawam; two for women at Ekuasi near Sekondi and at Ho; fifteen local prisons sited throughout the country, six of which have annexes for women; and two open prisons, one at James Camp near Accra, and the other at Ankaful near Cape Coast. About 70 percent of commitments are for less than six months. Outside the criminal justice system, the Ministry of Employment and Social Welfare operates probation homes in Accra and Jakobu Ashanti for boys and in Kumasi for girls; and detention centers in Accra, Sekondi, Cape Coast, and Kumasi handle juveniles of both sexes.

Persons convicted and sentenced to a period of police supervision (parole) rather than imprisonment are subject to a licensing arrangement. Violations of the license terms are punishable by one-year imprisonment. Upon convicting an offender of any age, a court may release that individual on probation for six months to three years. Failure to comply with the terms of the probation can result in the probationer's having to serve the sentence for the original offense. Probation has been used mainly for young persons.

Data as of November 1994

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Ghana Table of Contents