By Solomon Appiah
Member 6th Prisons Council | Chairman Project Efiase Planning Committee | Twitter:@s_apiah
When the 6th Ghana Prisons Service Council took office in December 2014, they assessed the needs of the Ghana Prisons Service and hit the ground running under the leadership of Rev. Dr. Stephen Y. Wengam—looking for solutions to the challenges identified.
SNAPSHOT OF CHALLENGES
Infrastructure is a major challenge that spawns other challenges such as acute-congestion, poor classification and treatment systems, high disease burden etc. When there is not enough space to take custody of inmates, prison stations are forced to take in up to 400% over their capacity. Packing people in such environments can lead to the spread of skin diseases and other diseases related to congestion.
Another grave challenge facing prisons in Ghana is transportation. There is the need for trucks and tractors to enable the officers cultivate large parcels of land. Prison officers sometimes use public transport—trotro—to transport inmates from cells to courts and to hospitals which are many times located far from the prisons. There are reported situations where trotro’s ferrying prisoners have broken down in the middle of the bush and unarmed officers have to find creative ways of securing a bus-load of inmates.
Regional Commanders of the Service and Officers in Charge (OICs) of various prison stations have to make do with old rickety vehicles that are honestly no longer road-worthy and rather death traps.
Furthermore food rations for inmates are drastically inadequate—mostly devoid of sufficient proteins.
After the President’s visit to prison, the minister of finance cited the first gentleman description of the situation in Ghana prisons as one of supreme humanitarian need.
WHAT HAS BEEN DONE SO FAR?
In proffering solutions to aforementioned challenges, the 6th Ghana Prisons Service Council decided to launch Project Efiase and the 10-Year Strategic Development Plan (2015 – 2025).
The Strategic Development Plan captures the “big picture” of what the Ghana Prisons Service is going over the next 10 years. In accomplishing the goals in this plan, the accompanying Project Efiase is aimed at changing public perceptions about the Service and soliciting contracts and funding to support the plan.
In the interest of garnering support for prison reform, the Council has paid and continues to pay courtesy calls on various public and private sector organizations. The Council has paid courtesy calls on the President of the Republic where the needs and challenges of Ghana prisons were spelt out as well as a road map for solving these challenges—that is, the 10-Year Strategic Plan. The Council has also visited the heads of the other two arms of government apart from the Executive namely, the Chief Justice and the Speaker of Parliament. It also paid a Courtesy call on the Attorney General asking for assistance with laws for the implementation of non-custodial sentencing regime(s) and parole system. The Council has visited media houses, embassies, banks, universities and other organizations to encourage support for the project and the 10-Year Plan.
At the invitation of the Council, His Excellency John Dramani Mahama launched Project Efiase and the Ghana Prisons Service’s 10-Year Strategic Development Plan on June 30, 2015 at the Ghana College of Physicians and Surgeons—where he was the Special Guest of Honour.
The bane of many such strategic plans in the public sector is insufficient oversight over poor implementation but the present Council is bent of properly monitoring and evaluating the implementation of the plan during its tenure.
At the launch of the project and the plan, the President of the Republic pledged to visit a prison, and bring his finance minister along so that both could be better assess prison conditions so government can undertake informed assistance of the prisons.
On July 3, 2015, President Mahama became the first sitting President in Ghana’s history to visit a prison, enter the prisons block and engage with prisoners in the heart of the prison—the cells. After this one-on-one interaction, he had a durbar with all 3,500 inmates. This was unprecedented. Following his visit, President Obama following in President Mahama’s footsteps became the first sitting US president to visit a federal jail.
SUPREME HUMANITARIAN NEED
Following the visit to prison, the minister of finance read the mid-year review of the budget statement and economic policy and supplementary estimates of the government of Ghana for the 2015 financial year to Parliament. Section 33 stated:
“Recall His Excellency’s visit to the Nsawam Prisons after participating in the Efiase Project. As he observed, it is another area of supreme humanitarian need that requires Government action. Every effort is being made by relevant MDAs to reprioritize expenditures to complement the promise of GH¢50 million assistance to enable us respond to these needs appropriately. Plans are also being put in place, including the alignment of IGFs and statutory funds to mitigate the risk of similar future disasters“.
The Government of Ghana continues to give funds towards the completion of the only Maximum Security prison in Ghana at Ankaful. Despite the grave economic circumstances that Ghana finds itself in, during the President’s visit to the Nsawam Medium Security Prison, he promised to build new blocks for inmates to ease congestion.
The government has donated vehicles to the Ghana Prisons Service to ease the transportation challenges—replacing old worn out Mahindras with 7 Toyota Prado’s, 10 Mitsubishi buses, 20 New Nissan Navara pickup trucks, 7 Toyota Camry’s, 7 Nissan Sentra, 6 Nissan Sunny’s and 20 Yamaha Motorcycles. This is a total of 77 motor vehicles.
Prior to these cars being handed over by the presidency, the minister of interior donated 1 bus and the ministry of transport also donated 1 bus to Project Efiase.
This is hardly sufficient for the overwhelming needs of the Service when one considers the number of stations across the nation nevertheless when one also considers the dire economic situation the country finds itself in, this is a laudable effort by government.
The government through the ministry of fisheries has augmented the protein intake of inmates by donating five shipping containers of Tuna. Efforts are being made with the Services’ Agricultural division to also improve the dietary intake of inmates.
Not long ago, the Ghana Prisons Service was saddled with enormous hospital bills for inmate treatment from various hospitals. Inmates were not covered under the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS). But thankfully, the National Health Insurance Authority (NHIA) and the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection (MoGCSP) launched in 2015 a program to register all prison inmates across the country under the National Health Insurance Scheme. This will go a long way to improve access to healthcare for inmates and reduce the health costs for the Ghana Prisons Service.
Furthermore, the NHIA boss ensured the accreditation of the Nsawam Prisons infirmary to enable them submit claims to the NHIA to bolster their Internally Generated Fund (IGF) sources, in addition to the relief of providing inmates NHIS cards for free.
OTHER DIVIDENDS OF PROJECT EFIASE
3M&C, a health organization donated medical supplies and drugs to the GPS which were sent to Kumasi and Nsawam Prisons. The Malku Foundation also on July 15 via the chairman of the Project Efiase planning committee brought together local doctors, medical students and nurses to attend to the health needs of inmates at the Nsawam Prison. The team of 30 was divided into 4 stations—3 consultation stations and 1 dispensary. The mission started round about 9:45am and concluded at 4:30pm by which time 341 documented inmates/patients had been seen, their ailments diagnosed and most given drugs as well as walking and seeing aids. Some of the leftover medical supplies were left at Nsawam Prison. The remainder will be given to other prisons in the country.
The management of EPP books donated stationery supplies to support the ongoing Prison reforms. The donation included 5 Laptops, 5 Flat Screen Hasee Computers and 5 sets of Encyclopaedia.
The Chinese embassy donated 10 computers and UPS’ and 10 sewing machines as well as opportunities for training.
CHIEF JUSTICE & ASSOCIATION OF JUDGES AND MAGISTRATES
On January 8, 2016, the Chief Justice of Ghana , the International Association of Women Judges (IAWJ) Ghana Chapter, and the Association of Magistrates and Judges (AMJG) donated soap and toothpaste to the Nsawam Medium security prison. They promised to make similar donations to other prisons. The spokesperson for the Judges explained that though their constitutional functions may require them to commit persons guilty of crimes to prisons, they still cared about prisoners and were donating these items as part of their social functions.
ACTION CHAPEL INTERNATIONAL
The Arch Bishop Nicholas Duncan Williams donated 100 bags of rice, 100 gallons of oil and 2 cows to Project Efiase for inmates for Christmas 2015.
The Chairman of the Council has orchestrated a training partnership agreement between the Service and the Saginaw Valley University in the United States of America aimed at improving the capacity of officers. The MOU is yet to be signed.
From December 15-19, 2015, the Council through Project Efiase organized a special capacity building seminar for the directorate and other ranks at the Pentecost Convention Centre Millennium City, Gomoa Fetteh near Kasoa.
The US Embassy has offered correctional institutional management training for the Ghana Prisons Service
These above are some of the dividends of Project Efiase thus far. There remains much to be done to make a dent in the need of the service which takes custody of over 15,000 inmates across the length and breadth of the nation.
All are thus encouraged to support Project Efiase and the 10-Year Strategic Plan. Kitiwa Bia Nsua.