CRIME, PUNISHMENT AND RECIDIVISM: ANY LESSONS FOR GHANA?

criminology_t-daf1e212

The philosophy of the criminal justice system since the Enlightenment over two centuries ago is that all people are rational and will manage their behaviors so as to avoid adverse situations and promote fulfilling and pleasurable outcomes. John Gillin, a renowned sociologist defines crime as an act that is shown to be harmful to society or that is believed to be socially harmful by a group of people that has the power to enforce its beliefs, and that places such act under the ban of positive penalties (2014).  The threat of prison terms, whose length varies according to offense severity as determined by legislators, is supposed to cause people to avoid behaviors that may incur imprisonment. Such a philosophy misunderstands what motivates and influences human behavior. Human behavior is based more in passion, imitation, convenience, opportunity, and emotional needs than in rational assessments of the rewards and punishments potentially attached to them. Prison becomes a part of this counterculture, and prison does little to introduce inmates to the dominant culture’s values, socialization, and legitimate economic behaviors. Upon release back into the neighborhoods and social bonds of the counterculture, recidivism and a return to prison is likely. The belief that prisons are “schools of crime” also has widespread support. The earliest writings on crime by scholars such as Bentham, De Beaumont and de Tocqueville, Lombroso and Shaw, suggested that prisons were breeding grounds for crime (see Lilly, Cullen, & Ball, 1995). Jaman, Dickover, and Bennett (1972) put the matter succinctly by stating that “the inmate who has served a longer amount of time, becoming more prisoned in the process, has had his tendencies toward criminality strengthened and is therefore more likely to recidivate than the inmate who has served a lesser amount of time”. This viewpoint is widely held today by many criminal justice professionals and policy makers.

To explain the legal history of the management of offenders in Ghana, it is necessary to resort to the historical context of the legislation in question. The Criminal Code of Ghana, 1960 (Act 29) is discussed as a post-colonial document in aspiration and a colonial one in reality. The codification of the regime of crime identification and prosecution Ghana inherited from Britain was retained, more or less, the same, after independence. For this reason, it is important to reflect on the failures and successes of the operation of Ghana’s criminal justice regime thus far, taking into account its colonial and immediate postcolonial days, whilst considering its present and future utility. Ghana’s Criminal Code and sentencing guidelines, which judges are not obliged to use, contain no general sentencing principles. This means that the judges are confined to sentences prescribed for specific offences. All offences in Ghana have prescribed minimum and maximum sentences. Alternatively, where, as indicated above, they possess some sentencing discretion, they exercise such discretion within the boundaries set out in the legislation. The practical point is that currently, Ghana is faced with high incarceration rates mainly due to over penalization of minor offenders. It would appear that, as the main means of punishment, incarceration has failed to realize the objective of prisoner rehabilitation that the parliamentary discussions prior to the passing of the Criminal Code emphasized. This study aims at analyzing the criminal justice system of Ghana as compared to that of the United Kingdom. It seeks to answer these questions; What is nature of Ghana’s Justice System as compared to that of the United Kingdom? What are the failures and successes of the operation of Ghana’s criminal justice regime so far? Is there any lessons Ghana can draw from UK in the workings of its criminal justice system?

 

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