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A Death Of Ghana’s Probation Service?


Photo Reporting: A Death Of Ghana’s Probation Service?A Death Of Ghana’s Probation Service?

Reflections- “From Criminal to Criminology” (Mirror UK, 15 July 2014): How a 25-year-old woman with 50 criminal convictions overturned her troubled past to the admiration of UK’s academic world…


PRE-SENTENCING REPORT (PSR) - In the Kingdom of Great Britain, Section 156 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 states that the court is required to obtain a Pre-Sentence Report (PSR), or a Specific Sentence Report (SSR) before imposing a custodial or community sentence. According to Prison Reform Trust, the PSR can help to determine if a community order and its requirements is a suitable sentence for a particular offender. The PSR should include: an analysis of the offence; an assessment of the defendants risk to the community; the likelihood of re-offending; and a proposal for sentencing. “There are a limited set of situations in which consideration of a report will not be necessary. These are: Magistrates or district judges might have received adequate up to date information about the offender from their current mental health professional(s) during proceedings, and therefore do not require another medical report prior to sentencing. The offender may have already spent as much time in custody on remand as would be served under sentence, and so will be released immediately. The sentence is fixed by law, namely mandatory life imprisonment for murder.” [But] “When considering the circumstances of mentally disordered offenders, a medical report might still be necessary prior to administering a life sentence as the court may wish to consider a hospital order. Any failure to obtain a medical report does not invalidate a sentence. However, if the case is taken to appeal, the court must obtain a report.” [1]


Probation means you’re serving your sentence but you’re not in prison[2] In Ghana, s.354(1) of COOPA provides that where a person is charged with either a summary or indictable offence, and the court thinks that the charge is proved but is of the opinion that having regard to the youth, character antecedents, home surroundings, health, or mental condition of the offender, or to the nature of the offence or any extenuating circumstances in which the offence was committed, it is expedient to release the offender on probation- the court may make a probation order, putting the offender on probation…[But]Professor Quansah(2011) seems to suggest that the Republic of Ghana, lacks the required infrastructure for effective utilization of this alternative means of punishment. Probation is consequently, hardly used. [3]


The Ghana Prisons: the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) highlights detrimental social impact and the cost of imprisonment, stating in its research findings that imprisonment disrupts relationships and weakens social cohesion, since the maintenance of such cohesion is based on long-term relationships. It’s said that when a member of a family is imprisoned, the disruption of the family structure affects relationships between spouses, as well as between parents and children, reshaping the family and community across generations. That mass imprisonment leads to a deep social transformation in families and communities. “Taking into account the above considerations, it is essential to note that, when considering the cost of imprisonment, account needs to be taken not only of the actual funds spent on the upkeep of each prisoner, which is usually significantly higher than what is spent on a person sentenced to non-custodial sanctions, but also of the indirect costs, such as the social, economic and healthcare related costs, which are difficult to measure, but which are immense and long-term.” [4]

While in Ghana; media reports, personal observations and interactions revealed troubling growing trends- mass youth unemployment, child prostitution occasioned by school-drop-outs, divorce, single-parenting, untimely death of parents/guardian, diseases and family poverty. Youth disillusionment, arm-robbery and imprisonment had therefore, been re-occurring frontage news items and topical discussions.

After visiting several prisons around the country, reviewing studies, and speaking with prison employees and inmates, UN Special Rapporteur- Juan Mendez, concluded that “the state of prisons in the country amounts to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. The majority of the poor conditions reportedly stem from Ghana's prison-overcrowding problem. While authorities have stated that the official statewide capacity-to-population ratio is 140 percent, some prisons reportedly have ratios as high as 200 to 500 percent. As a result, prison staff members are unable to provide inmates adequate nutrition, sleeping accommodations, hygiene, medical care, recreation activities and clean air. The independent UN expert added that these conditions have led to the spread of diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis.” [5]

Stephen Adelgren cites Mendez to have asserted that, as a legal matter, overcrowding [in our] prisons is a direct result of Ghana's tendency towards the imposition of lengthy prison sentences, coupled with strict appeals and relief processes. “Under Ghanaian law, only 10 percent of a lengthy prison sentence may be remitted for good behavior. Mendez reported that there is also a substantial shortage of legal aid workers laboring to address these problems. The Special Rapporteur recommended that Ghana ratify and implement the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture [UN backgrounder] immediately, which, he argues, would allow national prisons to be regularly monitored by independent experts.”[6]

By virtue of section 356 of COOPA; placing an offender on probation in Ghana, is without prejudice to the power of the court, under any law for the time being in force, to order the offender to pay costs or damages for inquiry or compensation for loss as the court may think reasonable. However, probation has according to Prof Quansah, been used mainly for young offenders as one of the methods designed by section 29 of Act 653 for dealing with juvenile offenders [3]. Section 355(1) of COOPA provides that ‘The order must contain such provisions as the court may deemed necessary for the supervision of the offender by a probation officer and such additional conditions such as residence and other matter as the court, having regard to the circumstances of the case, considers necessary for securing the good conduct of the offender or for preventing a repetition of the same offence or the commission of other offences.”

In the words of Professor Quansah, the disadvantage for ordering probation for an adult offender is that the order may be made only if the person is willing to comply with the conditions of the probation and that this dependence on the will of the convicted person severely limits the court’s power to impose probation of its own.” Section 31 of Act 653, talks about a social inquiry report- similar to the terms in the legal dispatch set out below and that such an order shall be valid for between six months and eighteen months [Section 31(5) of Act 653]. If a juvenile offender breaches the conditions of the probation order, the juvenile is liable to be sentenced for the original offence [Section 31(4) of Act 653]



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