Isaac Kofi Egyir, Director General Ghana Prisons Service
IT IS well known that eating a balanced diet is vital for maintaining good health and wellbeing. Yet, many young people who have found themselves in prisons across the country are consuming food, lacking essential nutrients, and putting their health at risk.
Everybody is a potential prisoner, yet, almost everyone enjoying freedom loses cognizance of the fact that we must rise together and demand prisoners in this country be treated like ‘human beings. Several reports have pointed to the fact that prisoners are treated inhumanely in our part of the world, which many ex-convicts have also confirmed saying this starts from the unbearable congestion, insufficient and unbalanced meals, and queuing for water, among other things.
Twenty-six-year-old Eric Marfo was released from the Nsawam Medium Prisons after spending two years for fraud.
He described the food served in prison as very bad and an eyesore but, as a prisoner whose right has been taken away, he said he had no choice but to eat whatever was provided.
“While in police custody, at least, relatives visit with better home-cooked meals, and on days relatives do not visit, one could get good food to buy outside with the assistance of some police personnel, but the situation is not so in prison,” he said.
Marfo noted that prisoners were fed mostly corn meals. They ate rice meals once a week, and these are on days when philanthropists visited.
Recounting a typical daily routine, Marfo said at 7:30 am, prisoners go for their corn dough porridge (more kooko) without sugar.
At noon, they are served banku (food made with fermented corn dough) and groundnut soup while for supper, they are served the same banku with groundnut soup.
However, every Wednesday, they are served rice in the afternoon.
He explained that per the prison’s schedule, inmates are expected to take their breakfast at 7:30 am, lunch at 11:30, and supper at 3:30 pm, adding, “It is the food that makes us accept the fact that our rights have been taken away and this is not easy.”
“My sister, at home, you eat and drink what you can afford because these are at your disposal, but in prison, the situation is different, our food has no salt, pepper, or spices. It does not look like food worthy of eating …,” he lamented.
Prisons In Ghana
The Ghana Prisons Service explains that there are about 47 prison facilities in Ghana, including 12 major male prisons and seven female ones.
As of May 2, 2022, the inmate population within the 47 prisons stood at 14,097, which far exceeds the national authorized figure of 9,945.
Director-General, Ghana Prisons Service, Isaac Kofi Egyir, who revealed this, said the issue of overcrowding remained a challenge to the service as large numbers of inmates competed for the limited resources at the various prisons.
He said the “Justice for All Programme”, has to some extent, reduced overcrowding in the prisons from 72.41 percent in 2007 to 35.11 percent as of September 27, 2021.
Despite this slight improvement, resources at the various prisons remain woefully inadequate.
Achieving food security is a key goal of existing global conventions on human rights that support the provision of adequate food for all persons. These rights-based instruments also seek to preserve the rights of legally incarcerated persons so that they can access food of adequate nutritional value, of wholesome quality, prepared and served with dignity for health and wellbeing.
The nutritional situation in prisons of developing countries and the health status of inmates remain a major human rights concern.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), apart from regular overcrowding problems noted in several central prisons, food is a main issue in the Congolese prison system.
According to the United Nations Stabilisation Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) report on detention conditions in DRC prisons and jails, there are serious deficiencies in food, hygiene, and healthcare.
The right to be free from inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, or other conditions that detract from human dignity and worth, is entrenched in Ghana’s 1992 Constitution.
However, there is evidence that these constitutional provisions are lacking in Ghana’s prisons.
Madam Frema Asiedu, a dietitian, explains that poor nutrition can impact one’s concentration and learning and may even result in episodes of violent or aggressive behaviour.
She said a bad diet can also contribute to increased rates of poor mental and physical health.
“Deficiencies in vitamins and minerals can lead to several issues. For example, low levels of iron, magnesium, and zinc can lead to increased anxiety, low mood, and poor concentration, leading to attention deficits and sleep disturbance. Omega 3 is required to improve cognitive functioning and this should not be denied of anyone,” she said.
Many prisoners have complained about the quality of food served at the prisons. According to them, prisoners who were not privileged enough to have their families visiting them were starving in the prisons.
The government, since 2013, spends GH¢1.80 equivalent to ($0.22) a day per inmate, which means each prisoner is entitled to 60 pesewas for each meal.
The rising cost of living currently in Ghana has worsened the case of these prisoners.
Though some prison facilities have ventured into agriculture to add to the food provisions the government makes to prisoners, the yields still remain inadequate.
The Public Relations Officer of the Ghana Prisons Service, Superintendent Courage Atsem, in an interview, said the service was in talks with the government for a possible increment or find another alternative to complement what they are given.
He admitted that inmates of prisons with farmlands were fed better than those in areas without farmlands.
“We also do get food donations from benevolent individuals to support the inmates but opportunities are also given to family members to bring food to their relatives in prison, twice a week.”
He added that “sick inmates apart from normal feeding are given special attention.”
Responding to allegations by inmates that the food served in prisons does lack major ingredients such as salt, pepper, and spices, Supt Atsem said these spices are often used but in moderation due to the health conditions of some inmates.
Detainees In Police Custody
Checks from the Ghana Police Service have indicated that detainees in police custody are better treated than those in prisons.
The Director General in charge of the Public Affairs Directorate of the Ghana Police Service, Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCOP) Kwesi Ofori, said suspects in police custody are also covered by the government’s GH¢1.80 pesewas feeding grant.
“Relatives of inmates in our custody are allowed to provide cooked food for their relatives daily, but the food is inspected before it is given to the inmate.
“In an instance where there are no relatives, the District Commander arranges for food for the inmate and the amount is reimbursed to the Command by the police administration.
“The police administration has external auditors who normally come round to audit their accounts,” he revealed.
Meanwhile, the Minister of Interior, Ambrose Dery, says government will adjust the feeding grants for inmates from GH¢1.80 to GH¢5.00 to ensure adequate food and nutrition.
He said the increment is part of the government’s efforts at ensuring prisoners get adequate food and nutrition in line with Sustainable Development Goal 2, known as Zero Hunger.
Mr. Dery added that the Ghana Prisons Service supplemented the inmates feeding with produce from the prisons’ farms to avert malnutrition and its related problems.
Ambrose Dery, Interior Minister
“Some inmates are equally engaged in modern farming practices at stations designated for farming activities and this is aimed at equipping inmates with the necessary farming skills needed to compete well in the agricultural market after discharge.
He said, currently, there are 21 farming stations across the country and these include Kenyasi Camp Prison, Duayaw–Nkwanta Camp Prison, Forifori Camp Prison, Amanfrom Camp Prison, Ejura Camp Prison, Hiawa Camp Prison, Osamkrom Camp Prison, Akuse Male Local Prison, and Awutu Camp Prison.
The rest are Yeji Camp Prison, Ahinsan Camp Prison, Ankaful Prison Annex, Ankaful Main Prison, James Cap Prison, Kpando Local Prison, Navrongo Central Prison, Nsawam Male, and Female Prison, Obuasi Local Prison, Tarkwa Local Prison, and Yendi Local Prison.
BY Linda Tenyah-Ayettey