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In media interviews Tuesday afternoon, a representative from the Ghana Prison Service and the Executive Director of the Justice Foundation called on social and charitable organizations to help improve conditions in the nation's outdated and overextended prison system.

Prison inmates in Ghana lack access to medical physicians, and are housed and fed for 1.80 GHC per day, Deputy Lieutenant of Prisoners, Vitalis Aiyeh, told Graphic Online.

"It is true we don't have a single [doctor] there", he said in an interview with StarFM today. "The infirmaries that we do have are not equipped; they do not have medications in them." He explained that Ghana's 43 prisons were designed to house 9,000 inmates, and today are buckling under the weight of more than 15,000.

Diseases rampant

In an interview with StarFM, Mr. Kwaku Agyeman-Budu, Executive Director of the Justice Foundation, described living conditions for Ghana's inmates as steadily deteriorating and "quite worrying."

Chairman of the Prisons Council, Rev. Dr. Stephen Wengam, recently told The Daily Graphic that in addition to lacking any real medical care, prisons in Ghana are bereft of even basic cleaning supplies and disinfectants, which has led to the spreading of diseases and bed bugs at some facilities.

First-hand accounts from a StarFM correspondent at the Ho Prison complex described unbearably hot, cramped and noxious conditions for the 451 men and 11 women who are currently incarcerated in the facility; it was designed to house 150 inmates. Prisoners were seen scratching at skin lesions all over their bodies and private parts.

The questionable human rights situation within Ghana's prisons is exacerbated by the fact that many prisoners are kept on remand for indefinite periods without trial, Mr. Agyeman-Budu explained. Currently, more than 2,600 prisoners, or roughly 20 percent of the inmate population, are being incarcerated on this basis. According to the StarFM report, the limited medical services at the Ho Prison are not available to remanded prisoners; their welfare is the responsibility of the Ghana police, not the prison system.

According to the Ghana Prison Service, roughly one-quarter of inmates have been convicted of theft, making it the leading cause of incarceration in the country. 

A crumbling infrastructure

The underlying problem, Deputy Lieutenant Aiyeh explained, is that prisons are not a public priority.

"It is Ghana that decides what they give the Prison Service to work with", he told StarFM. "The Prison Service by itself cannot change the laws, cannot build fresh prisons. It is the state that has the mandate, that has the power to give money, to provide infrastructure for inmates."

In a brief interview with Graphic Online, he described a logistically hamstrung and cash-strapped system for administering Ghana's prisons. The majority of Ghana's current penal facilities are forts and castles inherited from the colonial era, which he said has contributed to the unsanitary and crowded conditions.

"It's not as if the prison system is not doing their best", Mr. Agyeman-Budu told StarFM. "I know that they're doing all they can to make sure that prisoners have access to medical facilities, but with most institutions in Ghana there are logistical problems and challenges."

Calling on Ghana

Both Mr. Agyeman-Budu and Deputy Lieutenant Aiyeh both called on philanthropic and volunteer organizations to help improve conditions. Citing the success of legal advocacy groups in Ghana, such as his own Justice Foundation, Mr. Agyeman-Budu suggested medical charities could take an active role in improving prisoner access to healthcare.

"It won't solve the problem", he said, but it would represent "a step in the right direction."

The Ghana Prisons Council is preparing to launch a 10-year strategic plan to transform the country's prisons into more humane rehabilitation centers. These programs aim to mobilize funds and resources to modernize the prisons, as well as pilot new job-training initiatives for inmates. 

Deputy Lieutenant Aiyeh said that the Prison Service is calling on corporate Ghana, charitable and faith-based organizations and "every individual to help" in this effort.

If the state of Ghana's prisons is allowed to continue, Deputy Lieutenant Aiyeh said, the Prison Service is effectively foreclosing on its mission to ethically reform and reintegrate the convicted.

"We need everybody on board", he added.

Source: Daily Graphic

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