Pressure Mounts On Parliament
Pressure has begun to pile on Parliament to pass into law the Non-Custodial Sentencing Bill, which has languished in the august House for years, to honour the memory of the Ghanaian soccer star, Christian Atsu Twasam.
Non-Custodial Sentence or Alternative Sentence refers to a punishment given by a court of law that does not involve a prison term. Some of these non-custodial sentences include fines, probation orders and conditional discharges.
As a man of many parts, Christian, who was tragically trapped in the Turkey -Syria earthquake two weeks ago, was one of the people who had massively advocated the law to ostensibly free Ghana’s choked prisons.
The 31-year old, whose death has shocked many, especially the footballing world, had decried the inability of Ghana, particularly Parliament, to pass the bill into law.
Occasionally, he had drummed home the need to ensure people who commit minor or petty offences are not imprisoned, but are punished, using the community service order, probation order, supervision order (parole), drug testing, treatment order, etc.
Unfortunately, his call fell on deaf ears, but notwithstanding that he continued to support these prisoners a lot of the times.
In one of his social media posts, Atsu did not mince words by calling out the powers-that-be to be up and doing.
The football star said it was counterproductive for the courts to throw minor offenders of the law into jail and feed them with scarce resources. The footballer-cum-philanthropist is known to have settled the debts of many prisoners until his sudden demise.
He had, through the Ibrahim Oppong Kwateng-led Crime Check Foundation (CCF), been paying to free these convicts thrown into jail because of the absence of non-custodial sentences, saying he could not fathom why the bill is still pending in Parliament.
His charity and philanthropic work spanned almost everyone, including these prisoners across the country.
The post, sighted by The Anchor reads “A nation that has no Non-Custodial Law will needlessly throw petty offenders into prison and feed them with the tax payers money, when such offenders could have desilted our choked and stinking gutters.
Through financial support from philanthropist Ali Ibrahim and others, Crime Check Foundation (CCF) has paid the fines and secured the release of these eight petty offenders from Koforidua local prison today.
I just don’t understand why parliament has consistently pushed aside the passage of the Non-Custodial Sentencing Bill into Law. God bless Ali Ibrahim.”
Some concerned Ghanaians have suggested that Parliament honours the memory of Atsu by advancing the passage of the bill and ensure that, within a short period, the bill is passed into law.
A number of the posts chanced upon by this paper supported the call to pass it. One social media user advanced the argument, saying “Ghana Parliament, as we mourn our brother, can you grant this wish of his now that he can’t be here to assist these ones?”
Another user said, “Atsu did so much for these unfortunate prisoners who did not deserve to be in prison in the first place. Parliament should do well to hasten the process so that his memory would be honoured.”
“He stood for the poor and the needy. He would have continued to pay for these less privileged ones even though he detested the fact that the non-custodial sentencing bill continue to gather dust. Parliament, kindly do the needful now,” one more post said.
Interestingly, Atsu was not alone in this, as many groups and individuals, in the past, have made similar call to Parliament, yet not much has been heard.
At a workshop, the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) Deputy Commissioner, Richard Quayson, said the two main causes of overcrowding in the nation’s prisons were the excessive use of pre-trial detention and the incarceration of offenders for minor, non-violent offences.
“More and more offences are being criminalised and prison sentences are increasing on account of ‘tough on crime’ approaches,” Mr.Quayson said at a Multi-Stakeholder Conference on the Non-Custodial Sentencing Policy Zero Draft Bill, in Accra.
Human rights and crime prevention advocacy organization, CCF, in December 2021, called for the passage of the Non-Custodial Bill into law.
At a press conference, the organization’s Chief Executive Officer, Ibrahim Oppong Kwarteng, stated that, “Some vagrants and other poor persons who are arrested and fined end up in jail if they are unable to pay the fines. CCF is calling for the passing of the Non-Custodial Sentencing Bill into law.
This will ensure that judges have other sentencing options, such as community service.” “This is because our prisons are congested and with deplorable conditions.”
Other important groups, including the Center for Democratic Development (CDD), POS Foundation and Amnesty International, have all advocated the overhauling of Ghana’s sentencing regime to make provisions for non-custodial sentences.
Christian Atsu shockingly passed on to glory, following a heart-wrenching earthquake in faraway Turkey on February 6. The player had earlier plied his trade with clubs such as Chelsea, Everton, Newcastle, Porto and his last team Hatayspor in Turkey. He had gone missing but was found under the rubbles on Saturday 18, February dead. He has since been flown back to his home country Ghana for funeral and burial at a later date. He is survived by a wife and three children.