11 October 2018

Ghana: Mother, 2 Daughters Languishing in Jail for Stealing Corn

A woman in her mid thirties has narrated a chilling story of how four of them from the same family, including a breast feeding baby, are languishing at the Nsawam Maximum Security Prison (NMSP) jail for 'stealing' maize.

Narrating her ordeal, the mother of five, whose name was not disclosed by officers of the Ghana Prisons Service, said the three of them, made up of her sibling and mother, have left behind 11 children in the care of "nobody" as they serve their jail term.

The tear-shedding woman said they had to serve the three month jail term for 'stealing' half a fertilizer sack of in-husk maize which if processed would measure less than two 'olonkas.' (measuring can)

She clarified that the grains were leftovers they harvested from an already harvested farm.

Escorted by officers of the Ghana Prisons Service, the inmate of the NMSP was speaking at a Multi-Stakeholder Conference on Non-Custodian Sentencing Policy and the Zero Draft Bill, in Accra, yesterday meant to find solution to congestions at Ghana's prisons.

On the theme "Consolidating Efforts to Enrich the Zero Draft Non-Custodian Sentencing Bill" the conference sought to educate stakeholders on the Bill and its attendant reforms on justice delivery, take their contributions and to encourage government work on it in earnest for a speedy passage by Parliament.

The passage of the Bill has become apparent as a result of the massive congestions across the country's prisons.

Indicating that they lived on harvesting such farm leftovers, the young widow who works as a hired gari processor said, her younger sibling who is breastfeeding had the opportunity to be freed only if she could cough up GH¢360.

According to her, on one of their usual rounds to gather the leftovers from the harvested farm, luck eluded them when the owner of the farm took them for thieves and arrested them.

The prison uniform wearing inmate recollected that on that faithful day while she and her sister were on their way to seek permission from the farm owner before harvesting the leftovers, their mother took the lead to the farm.

Meeting the absence of the farmer, she said they heard gunshots from the farm prompting them to dash there knowing that their mother was on the farm.

Upon appearing on the scene, she said the owner of the farm apprehended all three of them together with the back-strapped baby and handed them to the police.

With tears in her eyes she narrated that after serving a week in police custody; they were put before a Court and were sentenced to three months imprisonment.

"We pleaded severally with the judge that we had young children at home but it was to no avail," she said as her voice cracked through an interpreter sending shivers down the spine of participants who included the Chief Justice, Sophia Akuffo.

Justice Akuffo, decrying the development, described it as a simple matter which should not have landed the three women and the baby in jail for three months.

She said the paralegal counsel of the convicted persons should have forwarded an application to the supervising High Court Judge for the sentence to be reviewed.

Justice Akuffo said an intervention would be made on behalf of the inmates within a week.

The Deputy Commissioner of the Commission of Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ), Mr Richard Quayson, said findings from CHRAJ indicated that, vast majority of the prison population was made up of persons awaiting trial for petty offences.

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