Claudia Coleman: Do defendants have rights to education? A Case Study of Nsawam Security Prisons

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Background:

At the time of this article, the Nsawam (male) medium security prisons had 2,876 inmates; of which 126 are defendants. During a legal aid clinic, I participated, in which I had the opportunity to interview more than one hundred (100) inmates of the women’s and men’s prisons of Nsawam prisons. Defendants accounted for almost 70% of those who participated primarily because legal aid was intended for them.

The varied outfits they wore caught my eye, and being a curious person, I asked for more. Those dressed in mufti were the defendants commonly known as “remanders” in court, while those dressed in blue uniforms were convicts. I also noticed a few inmates in maroon outfits and was informed that they were convicted students enrolled in distance education at the University of Cape Coast. Following this, I asked some of the young defendants what they were learning in the prisons and they said nothing, so I asked why they had not taken advantage of the various training programs offered in the prisons and I was told that the defendants were not allowed to participate in any of the training programs offered in the prisons. Considering the length of incarceration of some of these defendants, I was surprised to hear that.

Unfortunately, some of these defendants delayed hearings, while others never showed up in court to have their case heard. It has also come to my attention that some of the detainees have been held without legal representation for over six years.

The purpose of this article is to determine whether remand prisoners should receive the same skills and professional training as their convicted counterparts.

Education Laws:

Education is one of the fundamental human rights. It is considered a universal fundamental right of every individual because it is fundamental and essential. Everyone has the right to education, in accordance with Article 26(1) and (2) of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Education must be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental cycles. Elementary education should be compulsory. Technical and vocational education must be generalized and higher education must also be accessible to all on the basis of merit. Education should aim at the full development of the human personality and at the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It will promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, all racial or religious groups, and will promote the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.

Further, Chapter 5 of the 1992 Constitution of Ghana, which itself is centered on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) because Ghana is a signatory to it, listed under Article 25 of the 1992 Constitution that all persons have the right to equal opportunities and facilities in education and with a view to ensuring the full realization of this right –

(a) basic education must be free, compulsory and accessible to all;

(b) secondary education in its various forms, including technical and vocational education, must be generalized and made accessible to all by all appropriate means, and in particular by the gradual introduction of free education;

(c) higher education must be made equally accessible to all, according to ability, by all appropriate means, and in particular by the gradual introduction of free education;

(d) functional literacy should be encouraged or intensified wherever possible;

In the case of a defendant, section 19(2)(c) provides that a person charged with a criminal offense is deemed innocent unless proven guilty or has pleaded guilty. Accordingly, Article 15(3) provides that a person who has not been convicted of a criminal offense will not be treated as a convicted person and will be separated from a convicted person. Consequently, in our prisons, the accused are separated from the condemned in their different blocks. However, apart from the fact that remand prisoners are not allowed to participate in training/vocational training courses approved by the management of the prison service, remand and convicts enjoy virtually all the rights granted to prisoners, such as freedom of religion, the right to receive visitors, the right to vote, the right to legal representation, among others.

Challenges:

To cope with mental challenges while awaiting their fate, some of these “defenders” turn to social vices learned from experienced criminals both to pass the time and to ensure their survival as inmates. The truth is that some of these inmates have been remanded for misdemeanors, but since they have no legal representation, they may end up overstaying their approved legal term. They may end up being negatively influenced by some inmates when they are released. In the worst case, a defendant who stayed for five years and who was found innocent after his trial lost five years of his life without hope of restitution.

State authorities in charge:

In Ghana, while the prison service is responsible for all convicts, the police service is the institution responsible for all pre-trial detainees including remand prisoners in the various prisons. I believe that the defendants are sent to prisons on court order to unclog the police cells. This means that it is the duty of the police to take a remand prisoner to the cell or jails at every court hearing until the start or end of the trial, depending on the nature of the offence. Unfortunately, some police officers abandon defendants (especially the poor) under their surveillance in prisons.

The law governing the Service is the Police Services Act, 1970 (Act 350). Article 1 of Law 350 defines the functions of the service. It stipulates that the police service, as provided by Article 190 of the Constitution, must prevent and detect crime, apprehend offenders and maintain public order and the safety of persons and property. Interestingly, this institution has no provision in the law regulating how to handle persons arrested and placed in its custody.

Meanwhile, section 41(1) of the Prison Services Act 1972 (NRCD 46) states that “with a view to encouraging prisoners to lead useful and responsible lives after their release, the Director-General, after consultation with the government, social welfare and such other bodies as he deems appropriate, shall establish in a prison a course of training and instruction designed to teach simple trades, skills and trades to inmates likely to benefit from the training.

Apart from the formal education taken by some convicts through distance education at various universities, there are other valuable courses taken including sewing/sowing, hairdressing, electricity and electronics, weaving blouses, barber, bakery, catering, design and ICT, among others. Unfortunately, this provision only applies to convicts. This means that if a convict is reformed for a better future through these trainings, a defendant in the same prison will lose time.

In my opinion, legislation should be enacted to specify the period (between six months and one year) during which a defendant must be detained before being able to participate in these trainings. Article 15, paragraph 3, should not include the professional training of a defendant. I believe involving them in such training would alleviate the mental stress they face while awaiting their verdict. Also, it will prevent some pretrial detainees from falling prey to social vices in prisons.

If it is in the public interest for an inmate (whether convicted or remanded) to exercise their citizenship rights by voting in a national election, I wonder if they will not be in the public interest of a remand prisoner who is presumed innocent to exercise his rights to education pending the conclusion of his trial.

Conclusion

The Constitution unequivocally stipulates that every citizen can benefit from the education provided by the State. My view is that it is high time lawmakers consider amending Law 350 (which has been around for over fifty years) to include provisions governing both officers and those arrested in their custody (drawing on of the Prisons Act), in particular the law on the possible training of defendants in prisons after a certain period of time. After all, education or training courses are not compulsory; they are optional for the convicts concerned; and this may apply to defendants, given the long time they may spend in prison before being convicted or released.

I do not believe that a defendant who wishes to benefit from such useful training should be denied the right to education, which is a fundamental right, just like any other right exercised by any prisoner. Furthermore, I believe that depriving a defendant of his rights under article 25 is a violation of his basic human rights. I humbly submit my opinion.

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