Ambassador Sullivan’s Remarks
at the Visit of Ho Central Prison
Friday, November 29, 2019; 10:30am – 2:30pm
I ask permission to stand on all previous protocols:
It is my honor to join you here today. Your Ladyship, thank you for your invitation to visit the Ho Central Prison, and thank you to our colleague, Ambassador Tove Degnbol, for helping to organize this visit. It has been an eye-opening experience to witness the important work of the Justice for All Program to reduce prison overcrowding and put Ghana’s justice system to work for all Ghanaians. Prison overcrowding is a major financial, human rights, and administrative problem many nations face, including the United States. Many correctional facilities worldwide operate beyond maximum capacity, which endangers prisoners’ health and lives, and potentially puts prison staff at risk as well.
Overcrowding has many causes, but these can be addressed without necessarily building more prisons. Strengthening the capacity of the justice system for speedy trials, providing defense counsels, introducing alternatives to incarceration in Ghana’s criminal code, – such as community service – and modernizing case tracking are among the initiatives that have proven effective.
Over the years, the United States has provided support for prison reform along these lines in Ghana. In 2017-2018, we trained magistrates and district court judges on prioritizing bail decisions so that individuals who are not violent and pose minimal flight risk are not detained while awaiting trial. Today we witnessed the dedication of judicial officials and the joy of some who received bail.
In 2018, the U.S. Government funded the In-Prison Paralegal Program, in Nsawam Prison in the Eastern Region. The project trained inmates and prison officers to help write and file appeals for inmates who opt to represent themselves in court. With the support of Her Ladyship Chief Justice Akuffo, we are working with the Office of the Attorney General and Ministry of Justice to develop draft plea agreement legislation. This will help reduce court dockets by enabling cases to be settled by defense attorneys and prosecutors, which allows the courts to focus on the cases that require a trial. More than 90% of U.S. criminal cases are adjudicated with pleas, resulting in smaller remand populations, lighter court dockets, and speedier trials. The same is possible here.
Finally, we are helping to modernize existing case management methods in the legal system by developing an electronic Case Tracking System. This platform enables real-time visibility of criminal cases from arrest to sentencing, and addresses gaps in communication between key stakeholder agencies in the justice sector. Ho was one of the first test locations, and implementation continues.
In closing, I’d like to thank the Her Ladyship, the Chief Justice, for the opportunity to join her today. I commend your efforts in enabling much-needed reform in the justice sector. I’d also like to thank the POS Foundation for its dedication to the “Justice for All Program” and other initiatives towards prison decongestion and strengthening Ghana’s justice sector. I look forward to our further collaboration ahead.