UN Special Rapporteur Juan Mendez [official profile] on Thursday expressed concern [press release] over the conditions in Ghana [UN backgrounder] prisons. After visiting several prisons around the country, reviewing studies, and speaking with prison employees and inmates, Mendez concluded that the state of prisons in the country amounts to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. The majority of the poor conditions reportedly stem from Ghana's prison-overcrowding problem. While authorities have stated that the official statewide capacity-to-population ratio is 140 percent, some prisons reportedly have ratios as high as 200 to 500 percent. As a result, prison staff members are unable to provide inmates adequate nutrition, sleeping accommodations, hygiene, medical care, recreation activities and clean air. The independent UN expert added that these conditions have led to the spread of diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis. Mendez asserted that, as a legal matter, overcrowding is a direct result of Ghana's tendency towards the imposition of lengthy prison sentences, coupled with strict appeals and relief processes. Under Ghanian law, only 10 percent of a lengthy prison sentence may be remitted for good behavior. Mendez reported that there is also a substantial shortage of legal aid workers laboring to address these problems. The Special Rapporteur recommended that Ghana ratify and implement the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture [UN backgrounder] immediately, which, he argues, would allow national prisons to be regularly monitored by independent experts.
Poor prison conditions, especially overcrowding, are a global problem [JURIST backgrounder] not limited to less developed nations. In February 2012 Human Rights Watch issued a statement [JURIST report] regarding the state of overcrowded prisons in the entire Latin American region. In April the South African government issued pardons to 35,000 prisoners [JURIST report] in an effort to reduce overpopulation of its prison systems. The release of large numbers of prisoners to reduce overcrowding is not uncommon. The US has the largest percentage of incarcerated persons relative to total population of any country in the world, and that problem is the most pronounced in the California [JURIST report] prison systems. In 2011 the US Supreme Court upheld [JURIST report] an order requiring California to release 46,000 prisoners. In August 2013 the Italian Parliament approved measures designed to decrease its prison population problem [JURIST report], which is currently the most severe in the EU due to its slow-paced judicial process.