In the past, Ghana prisons have served as holding centers for political opponents. The current President of Ghana, Dr. John A. Kufour has stated, "Prison should be reserved only for those who have been convicted for breaking well defined laws and should retain the aura of reproach to ensure that it serves as a deterrent."
The prison system includes twelve prisons for men (Akuse, Kumasi, Sekondi, Kumasi, Tamale, Nsawam, Ho, Sunyani, Narvrongo, Wa, Tarkwa, and Winneba) and seven for women (Akusi, Ho, Nsawam, Sekondi, Sunyani, Kumasi, and Tamale). In addition, there are local prisons sited throughout the country, and two open prisons (James Camp near Accra, and Ankaful near Cape Coast). The present state of some of the country's prisons is a problem due to overcrowding, lack of sanitation, and some structures are weakened by age. For example, the James Fort Prison, which is almost 400 years old, was originally built for 200 slaves, but now houses over 740 male and female prisoners. The prison population of Ghana is between 11 -12 thousand inmates, with a female population of approximately 2%. Government resources are stretched and the prisons do not rank very high in the order of budgetary priorities.
The Prisons Service is a career institution (under the Secretary of Interior) with a promotion system and retirement privileges. There are about 7000 officers and staff and about 20% are women. The quality of prison officers and staff has improved over the years as training has increased. Up until 2000, the Director General of the prisons had always been chosen from the military and the emphasis was to keep prisoners in custody. Mr. Richard Kuurie, was the first director appointed from within the Prisons Service and has publicly acknowledged the Prison Ministry for invaluable support in meeting the logistic and spiritual needs of the staff and inmates. Mr. William K. Asiedu was appointed Director General in September 2003.
The 1992 constitution of Ghana establishes a Prisons Service Council, the chairman of which is appointed by the President and is responsible to the President. The Prisons Service Council formulates prison policy and regulations. It conducts inspections and investigates reports of unjustified treatment. The board consists of a the Minister of the Interior, the Director General of the prisons, 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 organizations. The current Chairman of the Prison Service Council is the Rev. Prof. Dr. Seth Ayettey, National Leader of our Ministry. Mr. Sam Okudzeto, the National Director of our Ministry, is a former member of the Council.
Prisoners are forever stigmatized by having been in prison. They are ostracized by family, friends, and society. The withdrawal and absence of family support, along with guilt imposed by society and neighbors sometimes entangles ex-convicts in cycles of crime and prison life. Convicts learn to feel permanently guilty and unworthy to live in a free society. Past loyalty to crime gangs and unfavorable economic conditions increase pressures and hardships which lead to reoffenses.
The Assistant Director of Prisons, Alhaji Mohammed Assani, reports problems for prisoners include failure of police officers to present suspects to courts on due dates, lack of transport to send inmates to courts and hospitals, lack of drugs at the infirmary, harsh bail conditions, and expired warrants. Daily difficulties and hardships include low water pressure, lack of adequate bedding and blankets, and lack of personal items such as clothing and soap. In addition, officers and staff lack suitable accommodations for themselves and their families.
There is irony in that sometimes the storms-of-life are necessary ingredients of God's plan to prepare our lives to understand and accept that we are not free except in Him. We hardly appreciate the treasures in Christ through His Word and His Church, until we experience the other side of life and we must be very thankful to the Lord for bringing us through these experiences that will equip us for service and that will bring honor to the Lord. Those who have gone through life the hard way are often better able to minister to others in similar circumstances.
The Ghana Prison Ministry Bible study materials are produced by Rev. Fr. Jonathan Wilberforce of the Anglician Church in Accra and is distributed to the prison teams across all the regions for weekly use in the prisons. The materials are specifically tailored through selection of verses and stories to minister to the prisoner's situation and behavior.