In a bid to further improve its relatively enviable human rights record, Ghana’s Interior Minister Mark Woyongo is advocating for the release of suspects who have been remanded in prison custody for over five years. Mr. Woyongo believes this will form part of a broader scheme to de-congest the country’s prisons.
Addressing prisoners and prison officials in the Upper East Region on Thursday, the minister decried the practice where some suspects are held in remand for extended periods of time, running into years. He said it was unfair to keep suspects on remand for over four or five years without concluding their trial or duly acquitting them.
"If you are in prison for five years and they have not been able to finish your case, they should release you" he said, drawing a tumultuous response from the prisoners.
He said there have been cases where suspects held in remand fro such long periods have eventually turned out innocent and discharged. This he said is not fair.
Mr. Woyongo said he plans to kick-start a discussion with stakeholders to roll out a better system, which will not erode the basic human rights of suspects.
"In the next few weeks the Interior Ministry is going to have a stakeholders conference to collect suggestions as to how we can reform our laws to make provisions for non-custodial sentences.
"In Ghana today you are found with one wrapper of Indian hemp and they put you here for one year six months and thereabouts instead of just asking you to go to the assembly and to do some weeding and say good bye," Mr. Woyongo said to the rather ecstatic prisoners.
He stressed the importance of decongesting the country’s prisons to make room for quality prison care as well as a just and effective criminal system.
In March, the public was shocked by the story of 46-year-old Francis Agyare who had been incarcerated for 14 years on remand. Mr. Agyare was finally released by a Human Rights court under the country’s ‘Justice for All’ programme.