A former Deputy Minister of the Interior, James Agalga, has called for Ghana’s prisons population to be decongested immediately.The current situation in the prisons, he said, is too dangerous for comfort in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. He argued that the overcrowding in prisons appear to have escaped the country in the scramble to observe the social distancing directive of the government and avoiding large crowds of more than 20 people. 

He said, “As I speak the prisons population is about 14,000 and yet the prisons facilities can only contain about 8,000 inmates.” “This means overcrowding in our prisons is about 50 percent and we are all under threat from this coronavirus pandemic.” Mr. Agalga made the call in an interview with this news portal in Parliament on Thursday. 

He stressed that this is the right moment for President Nana Akufo-Addo to consider the option of exercising his prerogative of mercy function under the Constitution to grant pardon to some prisoners. “At least the petty offenders who have been incarcerated so that we can decongest our prisons facilities,” he stated. 

“God forbid, if there is an outbreak in the prisons we are headed for disaster.””I use this opportunity to call on the President to immediately grant pardon to some of our inmates as part of the strategies to be deployed to deal with the coronavirus pandemic,” he appealed. 

Mr. Agalga, who is also the Ranking Member of the Committee on Defence and Interior, noted that the last time President Akufo-Addo granted pardon to prison inmates was in 2017, ten days after he was sworn into office. “Since then he has not granted pardon to prisons’ inmates.” “I’m saying there is a compelling reason why those powers which are provided for under the Constitution should be invoked at this moment,” he said.

Ghana, he said, should be drawing lessons from what happened in Colombia where 23 prisoners lost their lives because of agitation over the Coronavirus , which led to rioting. According to him, the United Kingdom and other countries have drawn useful lessons from the Colombia incident and are in the rocess of granting pardon to some prisoners. 

“If we were to exercise the option to release some of the prisoners at this point in time, it would not be out of place.””It wouldn’t even be an act in isolation.” Mr Agalga argued that many inmates in Ghana’s prisons are pretty offenders so they could be pardoned to free up space in the prisons. He expressed the hope that President Akufo-Addo will listen to ‘wise counsel’ and lockdown and also grant presidential pardon to some  prisoners with a view to dicongesting the prisons.