Director of Programmes at the Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa, Emmanuel Amarkwei Foley has reiterated the need for petty offenders to be made to undertake community service instead of incarcerating them

The human rights advocate explained that by so doing, not only will the state save itself the cost of feeding the offenders while in prison, the culprits will be saved the inconvenience and stigma associated with being ex-convicts.

Speaking on THE LAW on the JoyNews channel on Sunday, Mr. Foley said it is counterproductive for the state to imprison someone and use scarce financial resources to feed that person.

“People are going to jail because stealing is a second degree felony. Meaning that, you should go to jail for minimum three years, maximum ten years. Steal two tubers of yam and you are going to sit in prison. We need to ask ourselves as a nation why we should continue to spend that GHC1.80 for three years on that person.  

Those two tubers of yam, get the person to go sweep the street or go and plant the yam back. Sort of get them to do something more productive than to incarcerate them and spend money on them in prison,” Mr. Foley suggested.

The subject for discussion was, ‘Decriminalising petty offences.’

Petty offences, according to the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, are minor offences for which the punishment is prescribed by law to carry a warning, community service, a low-value fine, or a short term of imprisonment, often for failure to pay the fine.

Examples include being a vagabond, an idle or disorderly person, loitering, begging, being a vagrant, failure to pay debts, being a common nuisance and disobedience to parents; causing a public nuisance and hawking and vending, urinating in public and washing clothes in public and laws criminalising informal commercial activities, such as hawking and vending.

There have been various calls for petty offences to be decriminalised. This includes a call from the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) on the government to take urgent steps to decriminalise petty offences in the country.

According to Mr. Foley, he has had occasion to discuss this suggestion with the current Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Godfred Yeboah Dame, and his predecessors.

“What is our national conception of justice? We need to have a serious discussion as a country. How do we envision justice and how that does that drive our national development. There are other ways. The cane is not always the way to correct people’s behavior,” Mr. Foley added.