Non Custodial Sentence or Alternative Sentence refers to a punishment given by a court of law that does not involve a prison term. Non-Custodial sentence has various forms including community service order, probation order, supervision order (parole), drug testing and treatment order etc.
The last 15 years have seen a growing interest in the development of alternative sentences across the globe. In September 1996 the International Conference on Prison Conditions in Africa produced a declaration which recommended that community service and other non-custodial measures should be preferred to imprisonment where possible. The declaration proposed that successful African models of non-custodial measures should be studied and applied in countries where they were not yet being used. In addition, it was proposed that education be provided to the public about the objectives of alternatives and the various ways in which they work.
In Ghana Currently, the existing laws do not make room for adequate alternative sentencing which usually results to the sentencing of minor offenders to incarceration or pre-trial detention.
The Criminal Procedure and other offences Act (Act 30) only outlines the following forms of punishment which include; Death, Imprisonment, Detention, Fine, Payment of Compensation and Liability to Police Supervision. This has led to severe overcrowding and congestion in almost all of Ghana’s prison facilities. A major contributing factor to this is the absence of community sentence and also a lack of codification of Article 14(4) of the Constitution.
In 2007, the Honourable Attorney General of the time, the Hon. Joe Ghartey MP, having received several petitions from the Ghana Prisons Service on the alarming growing rate of overcrowding in the Prisons introduced the Justice for All Programme JFAP, in collaboration with the Judiciary. The JFAP which was structured as a mobile in-prison special court sitting was set up to address the issue of congestion in the Ghanaian Prisons. It runs under the supervision of a High Level Panel which includes the Heads of all the Criminal Justice Institutions in Ghana and Civil Society among others.
It is important to mention that, there has been very significant reduction in the Remand Population since the commencement of the JFAP, from 4,285 (33%) of a total prison population of 13,133 in 2007 to 1,473 representing 12 % of the current prison population of 13,700 as at December 26, 2017
Regardless of the forgoing encouraging data, the convict population has not seen a reduction or any major legitimate intervention. While the number of remand prisoners is decreasing over time as a result of the relentless implementation of the JFAP, the numbers of Convict prisoners appears to be increasing.
It is therefore imperative at this point of marking 10 years of the Justice for All Programme that action is taken to move beyond solutions for remand prisoners to the introduction of long term and lasting reforms for Prisons decongestion.
The introduction of a Non Custodial Sentencing Policy and Law will go a long way to greatly reduce prison congestion and help control prison overcrowding by minimizing the large inflow of convicts charged with misdemeanor/petty crimes. It will also serve to promote Human Rights to bring Ghana in line with International and UN regulations for the rights of Prisoners.
It will also strengthen Criminal Justice Delivery in Ghana and help to reduce the rate of Recidivism (re-offending), reduce the rate of crime and render society safer.
This and other factors is the basis and the rationale for the proposal for an alternative sentencing policy and for the implementation of Non Custodial Sentencing.
On this basis, the POS Foundation in collaboration with the Ministry of Interior and the Judicial Service of Ghana organised a 1 day Multi-stakeholder conference to educate stakeholders about the bill and what it seeks to address as well as receive inputs, criticisms and way forward for the bill. The conference brought together CSOs, Government, Lawyers, Partners, Diplomats, the media and other justice reforms stakeholders to who discussed the bill.
The Outcomes of the meeting: