Friday, November 05, 2010

67 Prisoners Freed From Nsawam Prison

Remand prisoners queuing to get photographs and fingerprints taken after being discharged.

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From William Yaw Owusu, Nsawam

Friday November 5, 2010
Sixty-seven prisoners on remand for committing various offences including robbery have been discharged by special courts set up at the Nsawam Medium Security Prisons under the Justice for all Programme.

It forms part of the effort to decongest the country’s prisons and also ensure speedy disposal of criminal cases.

Under the programme, all prisoners who have been on remand without trial for more than five years can benefit but would have to be screened in advance by the Center for Human Rights and Civil Liberties (CHURCIL), a non-governmental organization collaborating with the Judicial Service to sustain the programme.

Before a remand prisoner is released a motion was filed by CHURCIL and the police team attached to the programme makes sure that accused person’s fingerprints as well as photographs and particulars are taken so that should he or she commit another crime, the courts would determine the type of sentence to be imposed.

Yesterday, at the Male section of the Nsawam Prisons, seven special courts were set up with justices from the superior courts handling the cases.

In all 145 cases were heard. Fifty (50) cases were struck out for want of prosecution, Fifteen (15) were adjourned sine die (indefinitely) while thirteen (13) accused persons were granted bail for their cases to take its natural course.

Justice B.T. Aryeetey, a Supreme Court Judge who was one of the supervisors of the programme said everything was working according to plan and hoped it would be sustained so that the prisons would be decongested.

He said the time has come for all stakeholders including lawyers to show interest in the programme to ensure the criminal justice system becomes more effective.

Chief Superintendent Frank Kwofie, Head of Legal and Prosecutions at the Greater Accra Regional Police Command said all those whose cases are currently being tried by the courts are exempted from the programme.

He said the programme started in 2007 with those who were on remand for more than eight (8) years and when it became successful it was reduced to cover those who have spent five (5) years on remand.

On the question of some of the beneficiaries being released but getting involve in crime particularly armed robbery later, the Chief Superintendent said “that is why were are collecting data on every beneficiary under the Remand Review Project Database so that when such situation arise the police will pass on his or her records to the courts to impose deterrent sentence”.

He said the police has record of about eight (8) people who benefited from the programme but went back home to commit crime including armed robbery and the courts have been alerted to deal with them severely.

He said the special courts do not go through the merits of the cases and therefore the police make sure that such persons are carefully monitored saying in the cases of the beneficiaries either the dockets of some of them cannot be traced, their investigators have retired or transferred or there are no witnesses to testify in the cases.

Rexford Gyimah, Chief Registrar of the Fast Track High Courts said “legally they are free but we have to process their discharge warrants before they can be released. I would have to go back to Accra, study their dockets before issuing the warrants.”

Andrew Daniels, a legal practitioner with CHURCIL was elated that more judges are being put on the programme saying “this shows that the judiciary is taking the programme more serious.”

He said legal services has become expensive but CHURCIL is committed to ensuring that all remand prisoners are given the chance to have their cases heard, adding “we would appeal to colleague lawyers to join us to ensure an effective criminal justice system.”

“Once we are a democratic country we are enjoined to uphold the human rights of all people including prisoners.”

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