Criminal justice: How much punishment is enough?

Ghana’s Judiciary, the Attorney-General/Ghana Police, and the Ghana Prisons Service would have to undertake an empirical exercise to ascertain the following:

• Do “deterrent” sentences deter others from committing first-degree crimes such as armed robbery, manslaughter and murder?

• Between 2000 and 2023, how many deterrent sentences were passed on convicted persons, and how many first-degree crimes were committed in the same period?

• When do convicted persons feel remorse for crimes committed? During trial, or while in prison?

• What types of punishments operate in Ghana?

•  In what ways are prisoners reformed to turn their back on crime?

•  Is the Prison Service aware of persons in prisons who are innocent of the accusations of crime against them?

• What do they do when such cases come before them?

•  When the court acquits convicted prisoners of the charges against them, does the Attorney-General work out compensation for them?

•  How many compensation cases have the Attorney-General worked out for wrongly convicted persons from 2000 till date?

•  Does the Prison Service recommend to the Attorney-General the freedom of prisoners on death row, on account of good conduct in prison?

• Within the 2000-2023 period, how many prisoners have benefited from a Presidential pardon, on the recommendation of either the Prison Service or the Attorney-General, or a Lawyer?

• What sorts of sicknesses are contracted in prison on account of the quality of life lived within?

• Why do the Police prosecute persons without adequate evidential proof of crime committed?

• Does Ghana’s criminal legislation exhaust the means by which persons could be punished, so that imprisonment need not be the only way of punishing persons?

• Has it occurred to the Government that the vast and controlled prison population could be used as an economic asset for various productive ventures?

•  How many freed criminals deliberately commit crimes to return to the safe and protected environment of the prison? In other words, what is the rate of recidivism in Ghana?

•  Does Ghana’s judiciary measure the efficacy of punishments meted out to persons, to find out whether punishment works as a corrector of deviant behaviour?

• Is the Prisons Service continually working at improving conditions within the prisons, or does the Service think the more severe the conditions the better purpose the prisons serve as places of punishment?

•  Does the Judiciary think of the deleterious effect of long sentences on the productive life of the youth?

•  For what reasons are juveniles sent to Nsawam/Adult Prisons?


The questions asked here could no doubt be improved on, and also elicit allied questions from a researcher.

I suggest that a social scientist be assigned to undertake the exercise proposed herein to serve the following goals:

(a) to determine whether Ghana’s penal system is productive or destructive of prisoners, especially the youth, who are about 85 per cent of prison inmates;

(b) to determine innovative forms of punishment which would be beneficial to the society and the individual;

(c) to determine whether the Attorney-General’s office is conscientious about the rights of persons to a fair trial and, while in prison, mindful of humane considerations that could shorten their prison terms;

(d) to determine whether Ghana’s Judiciary adjudicate criminal trials within a holistic paradigm of human propensities, or within narrow, legalistic parameters of human conduct.

According to the Ghanaian Times of July 7, 2023, the country’s prisons are over-populated by 4,972 prisoners, that is, about a 48 per cent congestion rate.

Ghana’s prisons have a capacity of 10, 265.

This was made known to the public by the Head of Public Relations of the Ghana Prisons Service, Chief Superintendent Vitalis Ayeh.

Further to the above information, the Daily Graphic report of August 23, 2023, also added that about 85 per cent of prison inmates are youth, ranging from 12 to 35 years.

This was made known by the Deputy Director of Prisons (DPP), Millicent Owusu.

With poor feeding, poor health, poor care and over-congestion, the prisoners live a horrendous existential life, oscillating between life and death by the minute.

Hopefully, the study suggested here should begin to awaken us to the possibilities of reformation.

Principles of punishment

Let’s proceed with the rationale for punishing a criminal and the principles of punishment.

His Lordship, Ansah JSC in Kamil v Republic, Criminal Appeal No. J3/3/2009 SC of December 8, 2010, stated the ends of punishment:

“Where an appellant complains about the harshness of a sentence he ought to appreciate that every sentence is supposed to serve a five-fold purpose, namely to be punitive, calculated to deter others, to reform the offender, to appease the society and to be a safeguard to this country considering the sentence of 20 years which was passed on the appellants in the Kamil v Republic case supra, and considering also the principles on sentencing enunciated in the case of Hodgson v Republic [2009] SCGLR 642.”

The writer is a lawyer
Email: akwesihu@yahoo.com

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