The Justice For All Pragramme is an initiative aimed at alleviating prison overcrowding through setting up special courts sittings to adjudicate remand prisoner cases in prisons throughout the country. The Programme was initiated in 2007 by the then Attorney-General’s Department/Minister for Justice, Hon. Jeo Ghartey in close collaboration with the Judicial Service of Ghana, the Ghana Police Service, the Ghana Prisons Service, Lawyers, as well as Civil Society groups.
In 2014, POS Foundation in partnership with the Center for Law and Development at the
GIMPA law school with Funding from Star-Ghana (USAID, DANIDA, DFID and EU) collaborated with the aforementioned stakeholders and organized the ‘Justice For All Program’ in 6 (six) Prisons within (4) four Regions. One-third of Ghana’s prison population consists of prisoners who are detained while awaiting trial. The ‘Justice for All Programme’ under the project name Access to Justice Project for Remand Prisoners IV seeks to alleviate prison overcrowding by setting up special courts in prisons to adjudicate remand prisoner cases in the country.
The project also conducted research and advocacy for the purpose of closing the primary legislative loopholes which permits the indeterminate detention of un-convicted prisoners. The main focus was on Article 14(4) of the 1992 Ghanaian Constitution. The 2014 programme brought justice to Two Hundred and Fifty Nine (259) Remand Prisoners. The partnership continued with the Remand Review Task Force (Judiciary, Attorney General, Police and Prison)
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effectiveness and efficiency and have rendered elusive the goal of providing speedy and effective criminal justice for prisoners held on remand.
Many remand prisoners face excessive delays before being given the opportunity to stand trial. While awaiting trial, they face extremely harsh conditions, caused primarily by overcrowding.
This is compounded by inadequate medical facilities and other deficits. Lengthy pre-trial detentions contribute to overcrowding in the prisons. Sometimes, detainees serve more time in detention awaiting trial than the commensurate sentence for crimes they are accused of committing. Ghanaian laws set forth the proper procedures for remand prisoners but numerous sources report that these laws are often breached.
Once a person is arrested, Ghanaian law provides that the offender will either be subjected to pre-trial detention (remand) or granted bail, in which the arrested person may remain free until the completion of his or her trial. International standards state that pre-trial detention should be a last resort only employed under special circumstances. The Ghana Criminal Procedure Code specifies those special circumstances when bail should be withheld. But there is an inclination by the courts to remand arrested persons rather than grant bail, sometimes even in cases where conditions prohibiting bail are not present.
Furthermore, the remand prisoner issue is somewhat political. On one hand, the government must protect the Constitutional rights of those who are incarcerated by either bringing defendants to trial or releasing them when the prosecution fails to prosecute. On the other hand, the government does not want to appear “soft on crime.” The reality in a developing country like Ghana is that as the population is growing, crime is also on the rise. Repercussions of bad publicity and strong political opposition fuel the reluctance of judges and prosecutors to unconditionally release accused remand prisoners. There is also a deep moral discomfort attached to releasing prisoners who are accused of serious crimes, like rape and murder, on a legal technicality.