Detention in Police Cells

Juveniles are frequently kept in police cells when there is no other facility avail- able.[1] This goes against the 1992 Constitution which prohibits the locking up of juveniles in the same cells as adults.[2] This is understandably because police stations tend to be inadequately housed,[3] making it difficult for the police establishment to designate a part of the police station for such juveniles to avoid detaining them with adults[4] and to keep male and female juveniles apart.[5]

The juvenile is also not permitted to associate with anyone who is not a relative, lawyer, or public officer while in police custody or while being transported to a remand home.[6] However, in the absence of nourishment supplied by the state, this is a major headache for juveniles in police cells and for the officers in the particular police station. Given the absence of their families, they have to survive on the kindness of the adult cellmates or that of individual police officers even though juveniles have the right to adequate food while in police cells. It is in the face of such reality that it might even be seen as an act of kindness to permit anyone who wishes to visit such juvenile to do so, notwithstanding the well- known fact that often it is only fellow gang members who care to visit their arrested colleague and see him through the days in detention. Merely adopting new rules that recognize the right to adequate food and medical treatment during detention in police cells,[7] without providing logistic support to operationalize the rule, is not going to change the status quo.

The female juveniles sometimes have it better or worse depending upon the availability of a parent or other fit persons to take charge of them. Where there are no such persons, the practice was, and still seems to be, to keep such female juveniles “behind the counter” till they are put before court. Police stations in Ghana have a wooden table-like barrier behind which the police officer stands to receive complaints from the public. The “counter” separates the general reception area to which the public has access, from the other parts of the room where the public has no access. Although the parts of the room where access is restricted are in full public view, no one except police personnel has access to anyone kept there. A person “behind the counter” is essentially in custody, though not yet placed in police cells at the station, as the person cannot leave at will. It is also the place where suspects are initially kept until a determination of whether they should be allowed bail or detained in cells is made. Once the juvenile females are put before court, they might be ordered to be transported to the nearest remand home. However, since this might not be done immediately as transportation is a major problem for the police in Ghana, the stint behind the counter would continue, as few police stations have more than one set of cells.

A related issue is the absence of a sufficient number of remand homes in the country. Currently the remand homes are in the regional capitals only, with the Upper East Region not having one. Further, not all regions that still have the structures have them in functioning order, and therefore for most juveniles, this provision might never be applicable to them. It is admitted that the recognition of this reality has resulted in a new provision that empowers the Department of Social Welfare and district assemblies to designate particular premises as places of safety where juveniles may be kept on remand. It is further admitted that this power to designate has been granted to enable the police to comply with the law. However, since neither the Department of Social Welfare nor any district assembly has designated any such places of safety in their localities, the police have been disabled from complying with the law. The police authorities must take up the issue with the two institutions concerned in order to deflect criticism of abuse of rights of juveniles from themselves, to those whose inaction makes them the real culprits.

Another thorny issue is the problem of who is responsible for the upkeep of juveniles confined there. It is unclear whether it is supposed to be the Department of Social Welfare or the district assembly. It appears that since the district assemblies are expected to take overall responsibility for the welfare of children in the district and to budget for the same, this must include juvenile offenders. However, at the present time, it does not appear as if the district assemblies are able to shoulder that burden, given their own straitened circumstances.

  • [1] A Report on the State of Juvenile Justice Administration in Ghana 1993-2003. A Government ofGhana/UNICEF Study, 2005, established that 10,488 juveniles were kept in police cells within thedecade 1993-2003.
  • [2] Article 15 (4)
  • [3] The Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) was established underthe 1992 Constitution of Ghana to act as ombudsman and also to exercise jurisdiction in mattersinvolving the violation of human rights of the individual. Since its establishment, the CHRAJ hasbeen conducting annual checks on police cells with a view to improving the lot of suspects in policecustody. Despite this effort, most police cells are still in a deplorable state, and their conditions arealmost primitive.
  • [4] Section 15 (1)
  • [5] Section 15 (5)
  • [6] Section 15 (3)
  • [7] Section 15 (6)
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