The Akoto Lante-Samaritan And The Advocacy To Decriminalise Petty Offences (2)

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THE DIRECTOR of the Africa Office of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, Madam Mina Mensah, who was also a panelist on the show, made things worse for me,  “a lot of these laws are targeted at the poor; not deliberately, but by their nature.

“It is normally the poor that you find doing some of these things. It’s only a poor person, who will go on the street to beg, and sometimes for people who even sell in places that they’re not supposed to sell, for people who loiter around, you would hardly find somebody who has money just walking around, he’ll go to a recreational centre,” she said.

Her second bite at the cherry was heart-wrenching, “I always say that the state tends to punish its citizens when the state is not doing what it ought to do in the first place. If the structures were in place, people will not go out there to sell. Unfortunately, the structures are not there, we do not have social structures, our markets are not properly set out, and they are congested so people will do that.” Hmmm! Is all I could utter upon hearing Madam Mensah.

Community Service
 Since then, the producers of ‘The Law’ on JoyNews, have been at this advocacy for the decriminalisation of petty offences. Thankfully, the call for a resort to community service by petty offenders has fallen on hearing ears.

So, on June 26, 2022, Deputy Attorney-General, Alfred Tuah-Yeboah was hosted. And he had good tidings of great joy for the advocates. “The Ministry of Justice has plans of establishing a community service structure for persons found culpable of minor crimes. In fact, it is going to be run throughout the country so we need to have the structure at the national level, regional level and district level…depending on the case the Judge can decide that looking at what this accused person has done, it will be in his interest and that of the state for him to do community service.”

On July 7, 2022, he had an update for all who are concerned while speaking on the ‘Super Morning Show on Joy FM, “Now we have the draft bill. What is left is stakeholder consultation. Thereafter, we will have the final draft which will be placed before the cabinet for approval before it goes to Parliament. From where we are now, within the next 60 days plus, I think it should be able to go through some of the consultations,” he promised.

This is long overdue. Won’t you say? I hope it will be treated under certificate of urgency when it is put before the representatives of the people- Parliament.

Evidently, the Community Service Bill, if passed into law will offer an alternative to custodial sentencing for petty offenders. It will also save the state millions of cedis which can be put to alternative use.

Hmm Ghana! Somebody steals a goat, which costs about GH¢400, because he is poor. You fine him GH¢400, he is unable to pay because he is poor. So you sentence him to three years imprisonment. While in prison, you feed him with a state provided amount of GH¢1.80 a day × 365 days × 3 = GH¢1,970.00. When he is ill, you pay doctors and nurses at the infirmary to take care of him, not to mention the free accommodation, water and electricity that he/she may use while in custody. Why?

I get the feeling some of these poor convicts may feel sad and possibly refuse to get out of jail when their period of incarceration ends. If I were in their shoes, the question I would ask myself is, “where will I get money to feed, clothe and accommodate myself in these difficult times?”

No wonder some of them are repeated offenders. Yes, because if they come out, without any job, they will idle/loiter and beg for money or food. Because they don’t work, they will owe debts. Indeed they will pose a nuisance to many people. And when it is time to urinate, they will do it in public. Those who may be lucky enough to have support from family may go into hawking. But all these are offences.

Indeed, “…the state tends to punish its citizens when the state is not doing what it ought to do in the first place.”- Mina Mensah.

Well! Under the forthcoming dispensation, persons convicted of minor crimes will render unpaid public work within a community for a period not exceeding the term of imprisonment for which the court has sentenced them.

This is clearly a better option to imprisonment. With community service, the congestion in our prisons will definitely be a thing of the past.

What beats my mind though is how an ordinary law-illiterate resident of Akoto-Lante could think and act instantaneously on using community service for a phone thief while those we pay to think about our penal justice system enjoy the pecks of their office while supervising a cos-90 colonial relic of a law on petty offences.  Why should it take us this long to do what is obviously a better option. Eh?

It goes without saying, therefore, that the Akoto-Lante Samaritan has offered a shining example of how we can make community service work. I therefore have no doubt that his line of action is commendable.

What he did was reformative instead of punitive. He thought the Nigerian petty offender about the biblical dictate, “thou shall not steal” and in a Christ-like fashion told him to “go and sin no more”.

The time to implement community service as punishment for petty offences is now. ‘No long things’ Hon. Bagbin and co.

UrabehoNawe – That’s goodbye in Rwandese language.
Let God lead. Follow Him directly, not through any human.

By Rric.Mensah-Ayettey