Inmates at the Nsawam Medium Security Prisons want to be served with better food.

It appears all is not well with inmates of the Nsawam Medium Security Prisons, as the harsh economic condition in the country has reared its ugly head in the prison yard too. The inmates are threatening to go on hunger strike if the situation persists, and accused the authorities of the prisons of being insensitive to their plights. 

“In fact, we are dying because of wickedness; we are being treated anyhow. If you see the type of food they serve us, you will cry for us. The prison officers are not doing anything to reform us,” recounts one inmate who spoke to The Chronicle on condition of anonymity.

But, the authorities of the Nsawam Medium Security Prison said the inmates have no case, since they were not abreast with the day-to-day management of the prisons. Further inquiries made by The Chronicle revealed that food served to inmates lacked all the six essential nutrients.

Consequently, one angry inmate exclaimed, “It is not easy to get bread and butter on our tables over here.” Currently, inmates at the prison yard are fed on Gp60 per day.

An unidentified source told The Chronicle that the situation was more pathetic at the infirmary, as sick inmates are served porridge without milk and sugar. They alleged that a greater part of food donations made to the prisons by individuals, churches and other organisations end up in the homes of prison officers, while a small quantity trickles down to them.

“Most of the food items donated by churches and other organisations are taken away by the prison officers. This is wickedness,” a female inmate intoned. The inmates also complained bitterly about the authorities denying men of God access to the prisons to worship with them.

For over four months now, the inmates, The Chronicle learnt, have been organising their own church service on Sundays, a situation, they said, was affecting their spiritual lives.

The inmates, who could not believe the bad conditions under which they were living, told The Chronicle that issues bordering on their welfare were far better under the leadership of the Deputy Director of Prisons, Chris Lavy, who has been transferred to the Prisons Headquarters in Accra.

For instance, one inmate intimated that “During the days of Mr. Chris Lavy, pastors were coming here to preach the word of God, but they have now been denied access to the prison. It was only this Sunday, October 2, 2011, that a pastor was finally allowed to come and worship with us. These men of God are so important to us. They have helped to change lives in here, and an example is Benjilo.”

The inmates further accused the Officer In-Charge (OIC), Deputy Director of Prisons, Ben Lartey, for being responsible for the dehumanising  situation in the prisons, and doing very little to improve upon their welfare.

They, therefore, called for the immediate return of their former boss, Chris Lavy, failure of which they would go on hunger strike. “We have vowed to go on hunger strike if the government fails to change the OIC, because he has done too little to reform us,” the inmates warned.

However, the OIC, Ben Lartey, in a telephone interview, told The Chronicle that the inmates had no case, since they are not aware of how the prison is managed. He said the prison has a perfect system of receiving donations from individuals, corporate bodies and religious groups, and that prison officers are barred from taking home donations meant for inmates.

“There is no way items that are donated to the prison will be left with prison officers to share. We have a way of receiving donations.  Before anybody can make a donation to the prison, that person has to write officially to us.

“There is a donation book with a storekeeper who takes record of everything the prison receives. After acknowledging receipt of donations, we report to our headquarters for the authorities to know what we have received,” the OIC noted.

He explained that because of the high number of inmates in the prisons (over 3,300), certain items donated to the prison are given to those who requested for them.

For example, he said, if the Assemblies of God Church would like to make donations based upon the request of their members in the prisons, those items go straight to their members, but where items donated are meant for all prisoners, the authorities of the prisons will have to take a decision on how to distribute those items.”

The OIC debunked claims by the inmates that they take porridge without sugar, noting that sugar was served, except that it was not as much as they would have wished.  He, however, admitted that inmates are not served milk.

“As for milk, my brother, don’t go there. They are meant for children, and the government cannot afford it. If the inmates want milk, they should wait until they are released from prison custody,” he yelled.

He told The Chronicle that due to the ever-increasing prices of commodities at the markets, the Nsawam Medium Security Prisons could sometimes afford buying only four 50-kilogramme bags of sugar a month, a situation, he said, affects the taste level of the commodity in the porridge served the over 3,300 inmates.

Currently, inmates of the prisons are fed on Gp60 per day, a situation, Mr. Lartey noted, was not the best, due to the current economic situation of the country. He told The Chronicle that the prison authorities had made proposals to the government to increase the amount to GH¢2, in order to enable the inmates enjoy good meals.

Lartey, again, dismissed claims by the inmates that the prison authorities had for the past four months denied men of God access to the prisons to worship with them. “Prisoners have religious rights. They have freedom of worship, and there is no way anybody can prevent them from worshipping with men of God,” he intoned.

However, the OIC said before any pastor could gain access to the prisons, that person ought to seek permission by writing officially to the Director of Prisons.

That notwithstanding, he said, that person must also have explicit permission from the Officer-In-Charge before access would be given to him or her to worship with the inmates of the condemned cells.

“Anybody who goes there is under my protection, because if anything happens to that person, I will be held responsible.”

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