THE growing population of prisoners on the death row who have been languishing in condemned cells, some for up to 24 years, has become a major problem for officials at the Kumasi Central Prison.
The plight of some of the convicts, some of whom have been in the prison between 10 and 24 years since they were sentenced to death by the law courts, came up last Saturday when the Minister of the Interior, Mr Cletus Avoka, paid a familiarisation visit to the prison.
Fourteen of them have been condemned prisoners for years because since the inauguration of the 1992 Constitution, no President has signed any death warrant.
By the laws of the land, the death sentence passed by the courts can be carried out only when the Head of State signs the death warrant of the convict.
However, since the inauguration of the Fourth Republic, none of the Presidents we have had — Rawlings, Kufuor or Mills — has appended his signature for a death sentence to be carried out.
Some human rights campaigners have called for a repeal of the law on capital punishment.
Briefing the minister, the Ashanti Regional Commander of Prisons, Mr Joseph Kwaw-Yankson, said the Kumasi Central Prison, which was established in 1901 by the colonial administration to admit 800 inmates, now had a population of 1.672.
The minister shook his head in disbelief when he was told that because of the congestion, inmates had to sleep in turns, some of them sometimes sleeping under beds.
Mr Kwaw-Yankson called for a system that would ensure the establishment of more prison settlement camps to ease the pressure on the main prisons.
He also expressed concern over the inadequate daily feeding grant of 60Gp per prisoner.
While the prison remained overcrowded, prison officers also faced serious accommodation problems and, according to the regional commander, 17 officers who had been posted to the region had not reported because of the problem of residential accommodation.
He further disclosed that his outfit had been served with an ejection notice by the landlord of a house which had been rented for 72 officers in Kumasi.
He indicated that in spite of the numerous challenges facing the six prisons in the region, officers were doing their best to make the best out of the situation.
He stated that the President’s Special Initiative on Distance Education which had been extended to the Kumasi Central Prison was being pursued with all seriousness.
Currently, the junior high and the senior high schools had 30 and 25 students, respectively, all of them studying towards the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) and the West Africa Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) in 2011.
The commander said efforts were underway to make the central prison an examination centre of the West African Examinations Council (WAEC).
Mr Kwaw-Yankson said Reverend Ebenezer Adarkwa-Yiadom of Kumasi was financing a soap-making project at the central prison which had started yielding dividends for the prison.
Mr Avoka, who later addressed the prisoners, said the government was doing everything possible to decongest the country’s prisons.
He said the government would continue to encourage Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) as a means of addressing some cases as a way of decongesting the prisons.
The minister hinted of moves to bring on board community service in the country’s penal system.