Prison conditions were generally harsh and sometimes life threatening due to physical abuse, food shortages, overcrowding, inadequate sanitary conditions, and lack of medical care.
Physical Conditions: Ghana Prisons Service statistics available in August indicated that it held 13,597 prisoners (13,437 men and 160 women) in prisons designed to hold 9,875. Although authorities sought to hold juveniles separately from adults, there were reports of detainees under age 18 being held with adults at Nsawam Prison. Pretrial detainees were housed in the same facilities as convicts but generally in separate cells, although due to overcrowding in convict blocks, Nsawam Prison began housing some convicts in blocks designated for pretrial detainees. A facility dedicated for housing pretrial detainees was under construction adjacent to Nsawam Prison. The Prisons Service held women separately from men. No prison staff specifically focused on mental health, and officials did not routinely identify or offer treatment or other support to prisoners with mental disabilities.
In his 2013 visit, UN Special Rapporteur Mendez characterized prison overcrowding as “alarming.” Some cellblocks in Nsawam Prison contained 115 convicted prisoners sharing a space of approximately 415 square feet. The pretrial detention sections were often even more congested, with cells so overcrowded (40 in a cell designed for four) prisoners were lying head to toe in a fetal position. Prisoners in Sekondi Prison slept in shifts, sitting up, due to lack of space. Many prisoners slept on the floor without a mattress, mat, or blanket. In his follow-up assessment in 2015, Mendez observed no improvements in these prison conditions. A visit in September indicated severe overcrowding, inadequate medical care, and poor sanitation remained problems at Nsawam Prison. Although the government continued to reduce the population of individuals in pretrial detention, dropping 21.9 percent from October 2016 to September 2017, overcrowding remained a serious problem, with certain prisons holding approximately two to four times more prisoners than designed capacity. Special judicial hearings at the prisons under the Justice for All program through October resulted in the discharge of 46 pretrial detainees and the granting of bail to an additional 152.
The government reported 29 deaths in custody through September. Causes of death included severe anemia, pulmonary tuberculosis, septicemic shock, gastrointestinal bleeding, and acute abdominal partial intestinal obstruction.
UN Special Rapporteur Mendez reported guards and other prisoners physically abused prisoners. Prison guards sometimes allegedly used caning to enforce prison rules, carried out usually by “black coats,” a term referring to model prisoners. While the government acknowledged the existence of “black coats,” it denied it gave them special powers or allowed them to exercise disciplinary functions. There were no reports of prison guards or “black coats” abusing prisoners during the year. The government prosecuted five prisoners in Western Region suspected of killing a fellow prisoner in police detention in March.
While prisoners had access to potable water, food was inadequate. Meals routinely lacked fruit, vegetables, or meat, forcing prisoners to rely on their families to supplement their diet. The Prisons Service facilitated farming activities for inmates to supplement feeding. The Prisons Service received five tractors and accessories to further supplement farming activities and was preparing to establish additional farm prisons in the Ashanti Region. Officials held much of the prison population in buildings that were originally colonial forts or abandoned public or military buildings, with poor ventilation and sanitation, substandard construction, and inadequate space and light. The Prisons Service periodically fumigated and disinfected prisons, but sanitation remained poor. There were not enough toilets available for the number of prisoners, with as many as 100 prisoners sharing one toilet, and toilets often overflowed with excrement.
Medical assistants, not doctors, provided medical services, and they were overstretched and lacked basic equipment and medicine. All prison infirmaries had a severely limited supply of medicine. Prisons did not provide dental care. Prison officials referred prisoners to local hospitals to address conditions prison medical personnel could not treat on site. To facilitate treatment at local facilities, the Prisons Service continued to register inmates in the National Health Insurance Scheme. The Ankaful Disease Camp Prison held three prisoners with the most serious contagious diseases.
Religious organizations, charities, and private businesses and citizens often provided services and materials, such as medicine and food, to the prisons. Some organizations reported administrators at the prisons demanded bribes before permitting them to enter.
A study released in 2016 found that as of 2011, 1.6 percent of prisoners in Kumasi, Nsawam, and Sunyani prisons were persons with disabilities, although mental disabilities were likely underreported. Although persons with disabilities reported receiving medicine for chronic ailments and having access to recreational facilities and vocational education, the study found the design of the prisons disadvantaged persons with disabilities, as they had to compete with other prisoners for access to health care and recreational facilities.
Administration: There was no prison ombudsperson or comparable independent authority to respond to complaints; rather, each prison’s officer-in-charge was designated to receive and respond to complaints. Authorities investigated few complaints, as there was a general reluctance to complain even when there were allegations of police brutality or use of excessive force. Authorities undertook few investigations of personnel who may be responsible for an offense under Section 25 of the Prisons Service Act, which prohibits the use of torture or harsh treatment.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions. Local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), which were independent of government influence, worked on behalf of prisoners and detainees to help alleviate overcrowding, monitor juvenile confinement, and improve pretrial detention, bail, and recordkeeping procedures to ensure prisoners did not serve beyond the maximum sentence for the charged offenses and beyond the 48 hours legally authorized for detention without charge. Local news agencies also reported on prison conditions.