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8 years and 5 months on remand: I had nothing to live for

04.07.2018  11:22
The Justice for All programme supported by Danida has had big impact on the lives of prisoners on remand and has more than halved the percentage of remand prisoners out of the total prison population.

Realising the problem of prisoners sitting on remand for years, the Government and Judicial Service of Ghana acted by creating the Justice for All programme, which has been running for over ten years now. The programme is financially supported by Danida and has had a big impact on many lives over the past decade.

Kojo Obeng at his brother’s house, where he now lives; sleeping on a small matt with his few belongings.

Kojo Obeng was a remand prisoner for eight years and five months before being released in December last year. His offence was bodily harm to what he claims was an armed assailant.

“I didn’t feel so good, when I left Koforidua prison,” Kojo Obeng says, while his eyes are having difficulty staying fixed. When released in December last year, Kojo was skinny and ill. He points to his heart as he explains his physical and mental condition in prison. He had been having heart problems – among other fragilities – causing Kojo to go back and forth between the hospital and prison.

“When I was released, as much as I was excited, I was still sick. It was difficult to get treatment, because at the hospitals you have to pay. I didn’t have anything when I left prison,” says Kojo Obeng.

Taking the courts inside prison walls
Kojo Obeng is one among many prisoners on remand for several years without facing trial. The programme is a cooperation between the Judicial Service in Ghana and the POS foundation, and Denmark has financially been supporting it for the past four years through Danida. In various prisons, court sittings are held to allow prisoners on remand to have the opportunity to go in front of a judge.

“When the programme started in 2007, the total population of remand prisoners was 33 percent, and as of January this year it has come down to 12 percent,” says Justice Clemence Honyenuga, an appeal court judge working with justice for all.

Just under four percent of the cases ends in conviction, whereas approximately 20 percent are discharged.

Court sitting in Akuse Prison
The most recent in-prison court sitting the beginning of May this year, had trials for prisoners on remand in Akuse Prison, Eastern Region.

Isaac was one of the remand prisoners granted bail at Akuse Prison. While his mother helped him he drank three bottles of water, shaking uncontrollably.

The atmosphere at the in-prison court sitting at Akuse Prison was intense from the beginning. Small chatter was heard in between the trials. There were no cries of grief, neither yells of relief. The men and boys in the Akuse prison were used to wearing a tough-guy mask, however as some received their final verdict to be granted bail, it was obvious they were struggling to cover their emotions. A few prisoners thanked the judges on their knees for granting them bail after imprisonment for years.

At the Akuse Prison in-prison court sitting one case led to conviction, 24 were granted bail and four were discharged. The recent sitting provides an example of how the ‘Justice for All’ programme has taken the needed steps to effectively reduce the time spent on remand.