By Ernest Addo
Ghana’s prisons appear to be the most challenged by President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo Addo’ directive that as a measure to curbing the dreaded COVID-19 virus, which is ravaging along with deaths and economic difficulties, all public gathering should be suspended for four weeks.
The New Crusading GUIDE sources at the state’s minimum security prison, Nsawam, say that simple necessities like water and ablution facilities which support hygienic living condition in the prisons are in short supply, thereby denying the prisoners access to runny water to wash their hands after say, shaking a visitor who might be infected by the Coronavirus, visiting the loo or urinating.
There are no hand sanitizers for the prisoners talk more of N95 respirators (face mask) and gloves, aside existing protocols in place to manage outbreaks of infectious diseases such as screening of all persons who enter the prisons.
The Crusading GUIDE information were virtually corroborated by the Deputy Chief Public Relations Officer of the Ghana Prison Service in an article he wrote which was posted on many news websites yesterday, titled: “Prison Conditions And Ghana’s Fight Against Coronavirus”
In the article, DSP. Daniel Machator wrote that “The prison system in Ghana has existing protocols in place to manage outbreaks of infectious diseases. These include screening of prisoners and all persons who enter prisons, provision of sanitizers and running water for use at the gate and vantage points inside prisons, wearing of face masks by prison staff and visitors, quarantining and referral of suspected cases to appropriate health facilities among others.”
He lamented however that “Despite the above efforts, the Service is undoubtedly challenged due to the negative effects of overcrowding in our prisons. Basic necessities like water and ablution facilities which support hygienic living are overly stretched. The Nsawam Medium Security Prison for example has about 3,500 prisoners sharing facilities originally meant for about 790 people.”
Read excerpts of the Deputy Chief Public Relations Officer of the Ghana Prison Service (full article published on page 8): “Apart from the Nsawam Medium, Ankaful and Koforidua prisons which have relatively more resourced health facilities, most of our prisons operate near-empty infirmaries, incapacitating them from sufficiently catering for prisoners’ health needs. Some prisons lack infirmaries altogether and so depend on limited drugs kept in first aid boxes. It is obvious from the above picture that, most of Ghana’s 44 prisons would be hard hit in the event of any deadly outbreak like the COVID-19.
Prison conditions such as overcrowding, poor ventilation, poor nutrition and inaccessible healthcare are the major causes of diseases behind bars. A conscious effort should be made to improve on the deplorable state of our facilities. With the creation of new regions, it would be appropriate for government and corporate Ghana to invest in the construction of prisons in these new regions to help decongest the 44 existing facilities. This will help improve prison conditions to an extent and reduce the spread of communicable diseases in the process.
There is the need to look beyond the crimes committed by the incarcerated by accepting that prison health is public health. Effective communication and coordination should exist among all actors in the healthcare space to ensure that healthcare delivery in prisons is integrated into national health policies and addressed as a public health issue.
Infirmaries and clinics in our prisons should be considered in the disbursement of the $100m provided by government to enhance the country’s coronavirus preparedness and fight. Prison health facilities require expansion, materials and equipment to meet the needs of our over 15,000 prisoners as well as officers and visitors to our facilities.
It is necessary to note, as Anthony M. Kennedy, a former American Supreme Court Judge, rightly said, “A prison that deprives prisoners of basic sustenance, including adequate medical care, is incompatible with the concept of human dignity and has no place in civilized society…”.