The Attorney-General and Minister for Justice Marietta Brew Appiah-Oppong has been dragged before the Supreme Court over the inhumane and degrading conditions at the country’s prisons.
The plaintiffs-Martin Kpebu, Francis Ontoyin and Nana Akwasi Awuah, all lawyers, want the apex Court to compel the government to explain why it has failed to separate toilet facilities at the prisons from the bedrooms of the inmates, resulting in the use of a toilet by an inmate in the presence of other inmates.
According to the three plaintiffs, the practice which is prevalent in several detention centres in the country “is cruel, inhumane and degrading and also detracts a prisoner/remandee’s dignity and worth, and therefore inconsistent with” the 1992 Constitution.
Poor and insanitary conditions at the country’s prisons are insidious problems. Many of Ghana’s prisons are overcrowded and the beds are infested with bugs, making life unbearable for inmates.
A report released by the Human Rights Council of the United Nations (UN) in 2014 indicated that the human right conduct in Ghana’s prisons does not meet international standards.
The three lawyers however want the Supreme Court to declare that on a true and proper interpretation of article 15(1), (2) and clause (4) of article 35 of the Constitution, the government’s failure to separate toilet facilities in prisons from the bedroom, resulting in the use of a toilet by an inmate in the presence of other inmates in Ghanaian prisons is cruel, inhumane and degrading and also detracts a prisoner/remandee’s dignity and worth, and therefore inconsistent with the said provisions.
The plaintiffs want a declaration that on a true and proper interpretation of articles 15(1), (2) and 35(4) of Constitution, a remandee and a convicted prisoner are entitled to a minimum floor space of 3 square metres and 4 square metres respectively in order to maintain their dignity and worth as enshrined in clauses (1) and (2) of article 15 and clause (4) of article 35 of the constitution.
“On a true and proper interpretation of article 15(1),(2) and clause (4) of article 35 of the constitution, the inadequate medical personnel, medical facilities and medicine for the treatment of sick prisoners in Ghanaian prisons is inconsistent with the said provisions”.
The trio is expecting a further declaration that the government is in breach of articles 15(1), (2) and 35(4) of the Constitution for not taking urgent steps to ensure separate bed for each prisoner, sufficient toilet facilities and good nutritional diet for prisoners and which failure also breaches international standards.
The plaintiffs, as part of their reliefs, are seeking an order directed at the defendant to provide additional prisons or expand existing prison facilities in order to ease the congestion and overcrowding currently prevalent in the existing prisons in order to meet the requirement stated and that until additional prisons are constructed or expansion works carried out in existing prisons, the defendant must ease the current congestion by transferring excess prisoners in existing prisons to temporary detention facilities.
The three want an order directed at the defendant to provide sufficient beds, or other safe and clean sleeping facility for each person being held in any prison in Ghana and to renovate, paint, clean, and/or disinfect all dilapidated prisons and prison cells in Ghana and to keep all such prisons and prison cells in a safe, sanitary and habitable state at all times.
“An order directed at the defendant to make accessible to each person being held in any Ghanaian prison sufficient hygienic toilet and bathroom facilities well demarcated from living areas and to provide a nutritionally balanced diet to each prisoner three times a day under a nutritional scheme monitored and periodically reviewed by a qualified nutritionist.”
The three further want “an order directed at the defendant to make clean and safe water available, at all times, to each person being held in any Ghanaian prison for purposes of drinking, bathing, cleaning and other sanitary purposes and to provide each prison in Ghana with an infirmary manned by a sufficient number of certified medical officers and adequately stocked with the necessary medical equipment and medicines for the treatment of sick prisoners”.
The plaintiffs also seek an order directed at the defendant to submit to the Court, not later than three months from the date of final judgment, a plan of action detailing all the steps, strategies, and measurable targets by which the defendants undertake to obey and perform the orders contained in reliefs, as well as an order directed at the defendant to submit to the Court, two years from the date of final judgment and thereafter every six months until the expiry of the three-year plan of action.
By Jeffrey De-Graft Johnson