There was no prison system in traditional Ghanaian society. In
the mid-nineteenth century, the British council of merchants
established a network of harsh prisons in forts such as Cape Coast
Castle. By 1850 four such prisons could hold up to 129 prisoners.
Convicts usually worked on road gangs. The Prisons Ordinance of
1860 outlined regulations for the safe-keeping of prisoners. Later
ordinances further defined the nature of the colony's prison
regimen, or "separate system," which required solitary confinement
by night, penal labor, and a minimum diet. By the early 1900s,
British colonial officials administered the country's prisons and
employed Europeans to work as guards in the prisons. After World
War II, Ghanaians gradually replaced these individuals. By 1962
Ghanaians staffed all positions in the prison system.
Under Nkrumah's regime, the government showed little concern
for reform and modernization of the penal system. After Nkrumah's
overthrow, the National Liberation Council (NLC) authorized a
civilian commission to investigate the prison system and to make
recommendations for improvements. The commission's report, issued
in 1968, revealed numerous problems. Of the country's twenty-nine
prisons, nine were judged unfit for human habitation, two were
suitable only for police lockups, and thirteen were appropriate
only for short-term detainment. Because of corruption and
incompetence, however, the NLC failed to act upon the commission's
recommendations. As a result, prison conditions continued to be
substandard, with poor ventilation, sanitation, and foodpreparation facilities.
Ministerial responsibility for the prison system has shifted
periodically since independence, but the operation of prisons is
fixed by statute and is divided into adult and juvenile correction.
The former is governed by the Prisons Ordinance, which outlines
rules for prison operation and treatment of prisoners. The
constitution of 1969 established a Prison Service, the director of
which is appointed by the chief executive and is responsible to the
minister of interior. The Criminal Procedure Code determines
procedures for handling young offenders.
The Prisons Service Board formulates prison policy and
regulations. The board consists of a Public Services Commission
member as chairman, the prison services director, a medical officer
of the Ghana Medical Association, a representative of the attorney
general, the principal secretary of the Ministry of Employment and
Social Welfare, and three other appointed members, one of whom must
be a woman and two of whom must be representatives of religious
To ensure the welfare and the proper treatment of prisoners,
the constitution requires the Prisons Service Board to make
regulations for the review of prison conditions at intervals of not
less than two years. Reports of unjustified treatment of prisoners
and recommendations for reform measures are required of the board.
The prisons service is a career establishment with a promotion
system based on training and merit; its members have retirement
privileges similar to those of other public services. Prisons
service standards require one staff member for every three
prisoners, but the ratio in many institutions has risen to one to
five or more.
Although understaffing has been a long-standing problem, the
quality of prison officers and guards has improved over the years.
Women are included in both categories. Although recruited from all
over the country, prison personnel largely come from the Ewe and Ga
ethnic groups. The prisons service maintains a training school and
depot at Mamobi, near Accra. This facility offers a six-month
training course for senior staff members, special courses for
matrons, and preparatory courses for promotion examinations.
The Prisons Service Board also administers the country's
prisons. As 1992, the most recent year for which data was
available, the prison system consisted of twenty-seven
institutions, including six central prisons for men at Accra
(Ussher Fort and James Fort), Sekondi, Kumasi, Tamale, and Nsawam;
two for women at Ekuasi near Sekondi and at Ho; fifteen local
prisons sited throughout the country, six of which have annexes for
women; and two open prisons, one at James Camp near Accra, and the
other at Ankaful near Cape Coast. About 70 percent of commitments
are for less than six months. Outside the criminal justice system,
the Ministry of Employment and Social Welfare operates probation
homes in Accra and Jakobu Ashanti for boys and in Kumasi for girls;
and detention centers in Accra, Sekondi, Cape Coast, and Kumasi
handle juveniles of both sexes.
Persons convicted and sentenced to a period of police
supervision (parole) rather than imprisonment are subject to a
licensing arrangement. Violations of the license terms are
punishable by one-year imprisonment. Upon convicting an offender of
any age, a court may release that individual on probation for six
months to three years. Failure to comply with the terms of the
probation can result in the probationer's having to serve the
sentence for the original offense. Probation has been used mainly
for young persons.
Data as of November 1994