2017 Issue

Effective measures to reduce overcrowding in Ghanaian prisons

In simple terms, a prison is a place of confinement for people who commit a crime. It serves as a place of punishment for crime perpetrators.

Against this backdrop, some argue that the prison protects the society from wrong-doers and serves as a deterrent to offenders and the society.

Conversely, others argue that it is just a place of inflicting pain and punishment on people. The latter school of thought stems from the argument that previous offenders are recidivistic1.

Thus, in effect, we are perpetuating crime rather than fighting it. Over the years, with increasing modernisation and education, the core reasons for the establishment of prisons as institutions for punishment has undergone several reforms.

The idea of punishment has been abridged with modules geared towards perpetrators’ rehabilitation and change of mind. Thus, the objective is not just to punish, but also to encourage moral reformation of offenders.

Data available at the ‘World Prison Brief’ suggest that the population of prisoners in Ghana increased from 9, 507 to 14, 599 between 2000 and 20142. With a total of 43 prison establishments, the population as of 2016 stands at 13, 309 exceeding the official population capacity of 9, 8752.

With about 4000 prison overcrowding, the associated consequences are not only predictable but gruesomely felt in many of the prisons in Ghana.

The prison service is over-burdened beyond its capacity to care for and provide the basic needs for human beings. This is evidenced by the poor feeding, horrible accommodation and almost non-existing health care services for prisoners.

With such difficulties, programs for rehabilitation, moral reformation, and inspiration of offenders are out of the dictionaries of the prison services in Ghana. Thus, we can say that the Ghanaian prison is ‘a place of inflicting pain and punishment on people’.

Prison overcrowding is a life-threatening problem experienced globally and is believed to be borne by criminal justice policies not necessarily an increase in crime rates2,3.

Ghana must consider a critical revision of its sentencing clauses to put our prisons in shape and make them fulfil their proper function. The most important questions to begin with are: who are we sending to prison? Why? and above it all, do they need to be in prison? It is tempting at this point to say that the prison must exist for those who need to be there.

Several alternative forms of imprisonment (AFI) and places of confinement (PoC) are available and fully utilised by many European countries to minimise prisons overcrowding.

It is not overemphasising, as indicated by the UNODC3, that AFI-PoC policies contribute directly to the reduction of prison overcrowding.

These are avenues which can be adopted into the Ghanaian criminal justice system to manage prison overpopulation. In addition, several studies have also shown that reoffending rates are generally lower among individuals who are given non-custodial sentences than those who serve prison sentences1.

These measures, therefore, are worthy of causing a change in the offenders’ character, reform, rehabilitate, educate and also provide employment for them.

Aside from the above-mentioned benefits, this would also ensure that in our state of austerity, the budget allotted for prison services in Ghana can be spent effectively on the deserving criminals who need to be in the prisons.

One of the most successful of these avenues is Community Sanctions and Measures (CSMs). These are forms of punishment that has been adopted and expanding in other jurisdictions over the years due to its humane treatment in fighting crime in societies.

They are types of punishment that allow offenders to execute specific tasks in the community under strict supervision, but not necessarily confining them in prisons.

In England and Wales, these have been adopted as standalone sentences while in other countries it is used as a substitute for a sentence of imprisonment. The sense of punishment is seen in CSMs as individuals lose their leisure time in carrying out prescribed ‘sweat out’ tasks.

In Ghana, this type of punishment can be executed in our criminal justice system where different offenders or offences are assigned different and suitable forms of community sanctions depending on certain criteria, such as severity of the crime and its effect on the victim/community.

They are relatively simpler and cheaper to implement to address prison overcrowding. It can also be practised such that it becomes part of the prison sentence where an individual spends some time in prison and suffices it with a compulsory community work, the latter aimed at reforming and rehabilitating the offender ‘after being punished in prison’.

Some of these sanctions that can be adopted in Ghana may be:

Compulsory community work: Under this type of punishment, the offender is allowed to undertake an unpaid work in the community, specifically where he/she committed the crime. Such activity has retributive and reparative attributes as can be seen as a way the offender pays back to the community for the damage or harm caused to the community.

A community-based compulsory work can be spread over a period where the individual is expected to complete specific tasks such as manual labour in a community project, cleaning gutters and streets, weeding, etc. under strict supervision.

As an example, an individual partaking in construction work though seen as a punishment also provides an avenue to learn a masonry or carpentry work. Thus, providing rehabilitation and job training for offenders.

Productive work (Agricultural): Instead of abandoning offenders in prison in the name of punishment and ensuring sanity in the society, offenders [especialy first timers and juveniles] can be confined in a place and be engaged in an intense farming activity such as crop cultivation and animal rearing.

The government can secure farm lands across every district in the country purposely for carrying out such reformative measures for offenders as part of a prison sentence. The produce from these farms can be sold to cater for offenders and expansion programs within such facilities or serve the ongoing school feeding policy by government and among other policies.

While at these places, supervisors and specialised practitioners can be assigned to take offenders through other compulsory treatment depending on their individual offenders such as treatment of alcoholism, drug addiction, sexual behaviour and mental health.

These measures in addition to spiritual teachings are geared at changing offenders, reduce reoffending and to desist from crime.  Sometimes people commit crime due to poverty, their redundancy in the community, peer pressure, among others and these measures would engage offenders with lifelong trade and sustenance programs.

Correctional work: This may also be fit individuals with white-collar jobs. Where officials, such as government workers, are involved in any corporate crime such as [attempted] corruption and embezzlement, the individual can be allowed to work while a certain percentage of their salary is paid to the state. This would make sure that while the individual is being punished, his/her experience and intellect are not wasted in prison.

Probation: This is also another form of CSM where an offender is assigned a supervisor to meet at regular intervals and comply with instructions from the supervisor. This is also applicable to individuals who commit petty and non-violent offences, infant offenders and first-time offenders. Under such probations, offenders can undergo the above-mentioned compulsory treatments to address factors that led to their offence.

‘The implementation of these sanctions must start from the supreme courts to local magistrate courts where judges/jurors are encouraged to use these alternative forms of imprisonment according to guidelines backed by law’.


  1. Glenn C. Strategies to deal with prison overcrowding: the role of parole. In: Workshop on Strategies to Reduce Overcrowding in Correctional Facilities [Internet]. Salvador, Brazil; 2010 [cited 2017 Mar 3]. Available from: http://www.unafei.or.jp/english/pdf/Congress_2010/27Christine_Glenn.pdf
  2. World Prison Brief. Ghana [Internet]. Ghana | World Prison Brief. [cited 2017 Mar 3]. Available from: http://www.prisonstudies.org/country/ghana
  3. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Handbook on strategies to reduce overcrowding in prisons [Internet]. New York: United Nations; 2013 [cited 2017 Mar 3]. Available from: http://www.unodc.org/documents/justice-and-prison-reform/Overcrowding_in_prisons_Ebook.pdf

By: Emmanuel Nsiah Amoako, BSc (Hons), MSc, Contributor (Forensic Science and Criminal Justice)

©2017 Scientect e-mag | Volume 2 (1): A1

Categories: 2017 Issue, News

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