Source: Graphic Online
Thirty-nine prisoners who escaped from custody while on external labour duty outside some prisons in parts of the country have been declared wanted by the Ghana Prisons Service.
Most of the escapees were convicted persons serving various terms for stealing, causing harm, conspiracy, unlawful entry, defrauding by false pretence and robbery.
The escapees, who ran away from custody between 2010 and 2014, were serving sentences ranging between 12 months and 20 years.
How they escaped
Out of the 39 reported cases on the files of the headquarters of the Ghana Prisons Service in Accra, the James Camp Prison topped with six escapees, followed by the Sekondi Central Prison, the Hiawa and the Obuasi prisons in that order.
A number of the fugitives were also prisoners who had been transferred to local and camp prisons to serve the remaining terms of their sentences, but they took advantage of the relaxed regulations and environment to escape.
The prisoners in the local and the open camp prisons have the easiest way to escape. While local prisons concentrate on safe custody and the welfare of inmates due to lack of space for trade training activities, open camp prisons, on the other hand, undertake agricultural activities to provide food and train inmates in modern agricultural practices. Prisoners who are about to be discharged are transferred to such facilities as transit points to prepare them for their final release.
While in other jurisdictions escaping from prison involves sophisticated plans, in Ghana more often prisoners flee on the spur of the moment when a window of opportunity opens, especially when they are working outside the walls of the prison.
Circumstances of escape
Explaining circumstances that mostly lead to the escape of prisoners, the Chief Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the Ghana Prisons Service, DSP Vitalis Aiyeh, said almost every convicted prisoner in Ghana was sentenced with hard labour.
“Prisoners are supposed to work in dignity and give back to society what they had taken,” he explained.
Painting a picture of the daily dangers and dilemma of prison officers, he said, “Listen to this scenario: I‘m leading six prisoners to farm and they are holding machetes. If a prisoner brandishes a machete and threatens that he is leaving, what will you do? It would be difficult to approach and arrest such a person.”
“External labour is one way we lose most of our prisoners,” he added.
He, however, maintained that the escapees were not the most dangerous ones. “You must be qualified in a certain way. It means your sentence is either less or you have served your sentence to some point and you are exiting.
“Mostly, you have to do a third of your sentence before you go out. You should be less risky. For example, if you are sentenced to three years in hard labour, you will have to do a third of it, that is, about a year and half, before you are allowed to go out,” he said.
Ghana’s prison regulation does not permit prison officers to carry offensive weapons such as guns while escorting prisoners, a situation that sometimes emboldens prisoners to escape or even threaten the lives of prison officers.
Although such occurrences were rare, DSP Aiyeh explained why prison officers did not carry guns while on external work duty with prisoners.
According to him, “prison officers hold guns but they do not follow prisoners. The concept of imprisoning is reformation and wielding a gun behind somebody you are reforming psychologically would not work. There should be a relationship that will create a congenial atmosphere for work to progress.
“We are supposed to reform and integrate the prisoner. If we use guns in public, it creates the impression that this is a very dangerous criminal who should be guided at all times, otherwise he can explode. If tomorrow the person is released and you don’t follow him, that impression is still there. This could lead to stigmatisation,” he said.
If a prisoner escapes, there are various forms of punishment meted out to the prison officer after investigations and a hearing, irrespective of the circumstances under which the prisoner escaped.
The sanctions include outright dismissal, reduced rank and reduction in salary or caution.
On the tall list of the most wanted prisoners in Ghana, Yaw Asamoah, who was sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment with hard labour for conspiracy and robbery, tops, followed by Wuh Yao, who escaped from the Ho Central Prison on June 9, 2014 while serving a 10-year sentence.
The other escapees are Gazali Bawa, Yeji Camp Prison; Kwaku Poku, Sampson Yeboah and Kwame Peter, alias Forkuo, Amanfrom Camp Prison; Eric Ahiakpor and Fofo Amuzu, Ho Central Prison; William Sackey and Mohammed Sani Abdulai, Osamkrom Camp Prison; Akwasi Atta, Kumasi Central Prison; Daniel Agyepong, Kwaku Sarpong and Mathias Larijah,Tarkwa Local Prison; Stephen Danful, Jacob Akporkpor, Kwasi Koranteng, and Samuel Adu Kwao, James Camp Prison.
Others are Issah Fatau, Hiawa Camp Prison; Kwaku Sarpong and Joshua Baffoe, Tarkwa Local Prison; Abubakr Sambo alias Old Man, Nasiru Musah and Haruna Adams, Obuasi Local Prison; Ishak Ahmed, Ankaful Main Prison.
The rest are Kofi Atta, alias Kwadwo Afful, Kwame Azuma, and Evans Cudjoe, Sekondi Central Prison; Osman Salifu, Tamale Central Prison; Yakubu Abdullai and Kwame Nyamekye, Kumasi Central Prison; Kwabena Opoku, Sunyani Central Prison; Issaka Alaza and Maawuto Akoto, Kpando Local Prison; Haruna Musah, Gambaga Camp Prison; Bebrie Yenya, Wa Camp Prison; Kofi Tawiah, alias Samuel Donkor, Akuse Local Prison, and Kwasi Owusu and Kofi Kumah, Nsawam Prison.
Going forward, DSP Aiyeh said the country should consider reforms, including the building of specialist prisons to cater for people with drug, mental and anger management problems.
“We need to build modern prisons. It is capital intensive and could take time. Prisons reforms include alternatives to prison.
“If somebody steals plantain because he is hungry, what is the essence of sending him to prison for seven years? If he could be asked to do some weeding and go, why not? If we institute non-custodial sentences, it will help our cause,” he added.