Effects of Contemporary Penal System on the Ghanaian Culture

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Ghanaians have a unique culture that cuts across the entire various ethnic groups. Every ethnic group has its own traditional laws. However, due to the acculturation as a result of the coming of the Europeans, the Ghanaian Contemporary Penal System have side-lined the traditional penal system. The main objectives of the study were to identify the Ghanaian penal systems and assess their strengths and weaknesses; examine whether or not the contemporary penal system has influenced the Ghanaian culture and finally, to explore aspects of the traditional penal system which could be incorporated into the contemporary penal system. The descriptive survey of qualitative approach was used. The design was adopted mainly to explore the culture of people, identify, describe and analyse both penal systems through questionnaire, interviews and observations. The findings revealed the following strengths in the traditional penal system: promotion of reconciliation and restoration of social harmony, operation of inescapable Justice System, flexible rules of evidence and procedure, ensures quick trial process and lastly involves low cost and is easily accessible. The weaknesses of the traditional penal system are: non-custodial sentences; undefined sentencing policies; room for excesses and abuses, and human rights violation; in some cases it offers unfair judgment; no legal representation during trial. Again, the research findings revealed some strengths of contemporary penal system to include: ensuring the isolation of criminals from the larger society; convicts have rights of appeal against sentence; suspects have access to legal representation during trial; a well-structured system; offers opportunity for prisoners to undergo reformation and rehabilitation. Furthermore, the research revealed some weaknesses in the contemporary system that: it causes delay in hearing; there is public perception of bribery and corruption; perception of unfair court judgements. The study discovered that the contemporary penal system has to a large extent influenced the Ghanaian culture negatively and positively. The negative influences of the Contemporary Penal System on the Ghanaian Culture are that: it has side-lined the authority of traditional ruler-ship; imprisonment has adverse repercussion on the convicts and family; weakens the chance of persons appointed to key positions in the society and affects the chances of culprits travelling, marriage, employment. Ability to redress wrongs; access to right of appeal are examples of positive influences on the Ghanaian Culture. The study concluded that the contemporary penal system has indeed influenced Ghanaian culture, negatively and positively, and some vital aspects of the traditional penal system could be incorporated into the contemporary penal system to ensure a more effective national development with regards to the judiciary system. The study recommended that; the Judicial Council should endeavour to adopt the strengths of the traditional penal system to compensate for the weaknesses of the contemporary penal system; the National Commission of Civic Education should educate members of the Ghanaian community on the rights of individuals, penal systems vis-à-vis Ghanaian cultural practices and vital elements such as swearing of oaths with the local artefacts, decorating court rooms with traditional symbols should be incorporated into the contemporary penal system.
A Dissertation submitted to the School of Graduate Studies Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in African Art and Culture, 2015