Imprisonment, in recent times, has moved from the era of human warehousing to that which seeks to correct the offending behaviour of offenders. The shift in focus, undoubtedly, requires from the Ghana Prisons Service newer treatment modules which focus on filling behavioural and intellectual gaps of offenders to empower them for fruitful and law-abiding lives upon discharge to keep the revolving door of crime shut.
An emerging module employed by the Ghana Prisons Service in this regard is formal and non-formal education. The drive seeks to provide opportunities for prisoners who desire to continue their education or receive literacy training to do so. Most of Ghana’s prisons run Junior and Senior High Schools, Technical and Vocational Training, as well as literacy classes through the Non-Formal Education Division of the Ghana Education Service. This fulfils a provision in the United Nation’s Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners which states that “so far as is practicable, the education of prisoners shall be integrated with the educational system of the country, so that after their release, they may continue their education without difficulty”.
Less education, more offenders
Statistics gathered over the years suggest that persons with little or no formal education are more likely to come into conflict with the law. According to the 2018 Annual Report of the Ghana Prisons Service, out of the 9,034 persons admitted into prison, 5,888 had been educated up to the basic level whereas 1,495 had no formal education at the time of admission. These offenders, mostly, had little or no access to educational opportunities probably due to circumstances such as extreme poverty and broken homes. Educational programmes behind bars mostly attempt to right the educational wrongs inflicted on society’s marginalised. It has the tendency of reducing one’s likelihood of returning to criminal activity as higher academic attainment ensures greater opportunities for employment, improve skillset for economic flexibility and affords the individual stronger decision-making skills required to ensure their compliance with the law upon release.
On the 18th of January 2020, 59 inmates of the Nsawam Medium Security Prison were matriculated to read various diploma programmes through distance learning from the College of Distance Education of the University of Cape Coast. The tripartite agreement between Plan Volta Foundation, University of Cape Coast and the Ghana Prisons Service has the vision of rolling out the programme across Ghana’s 44 prison establishments for qualified inmates.
The programme comes at a time when the Service was struggling to secure a partner for prisoners’ tertiary education, as those who had successfully completed secondary education either before their incarceration or from within the walls of our prisons had no opportunities for further studies. The gap in the continuum demotivated prisoners from subscribing to available educational programmes as there was no opportunity to continue beyond the secondary level.
An investment in public safety
Any investment to assist the Ghana Prisons Service to deliver on its constitutional mandates of safe custody, welfare, reformation and rehabilitation of prisoners is an investment in public safety. Newman et al in their 1993 work, Prison Literacy, assert that “appropriate education leads to a more humane and more tolerable prison environment in which to live and work, not only for the inmates but also for the officers, staff and everyone else”.
Prisoner education kills boredom which reminds them of the pains of imprisonment as the pressures of academic work affords them little or no time to grieve over their predicaments. This presents to the prison administrator a fertile ground to implement rehabilitation modules with the overall aim of improving public safety.
Related areas of need
While we commend Plan Volta Foundation and the University of Cape Coast for this intervention, it is important to note that, the module requires the strengthening of certain pillars to prevent a situation where it turns into an effort in futility.
The Service continues to grapple with a daily feeding rate of GH 1.80 per inmate. The amount, which is obviously inadequate, leaves prison administrators in very tight corners as it is almost impossible to convince a virtually hungry offender to subscribe to reformation and rehabilitation modules. There is an urgent need for an upward adjustment of the rate to reduce the burden on prison administrators.
Overcrowding remains a challenge in Ghana’s prisons as the 2018 Annual Report of the Service pegs the rate at 52.5%. With the attendant health implications that overcrowding brings, corporate Ghana and faith-based organizations are encouraged to follow the example of the Church of Pentecost to intervene by providing the infrastructure required to ease the congestion and present to prisoners a humane environment capable of supporting their reformation.
Finally, when beneficiaries of prison educational modules are released, society should offer them equal employment opportunities as persons who received same training outside. This would serve as a motivation for those in prison to subscribe to prison educational programmes as Dorothea Dix, an American mental health advocate rightly put it, “while we diminish the stimulant of fear, we must increase to prisoners the incitements of hope, in proportion as we extinguish the terrors of the law, we should awaken and strengthen the control of the conscience”.
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