Mental Health of Prisoners: Chief Psychiatrist May Be “Loco” – Says Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jnr., Ph.D.

Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jnr., Ph.D.

On the face of it, the advice of Ghana’s Chief Psychiatrist, Dr. Akwasi Osei, rings quite reasonable and even verges on the outright intelligent. Unfortunately, upon closer scrutiny, one begins to wonder whether the health expert himself is in a healthy state of mind. According to Dr. Osei, all judges in the country require immediate mental health education in order to remedy the current disturbing situation, whereby a remarkably high number of the clinically insane who commit heinous crimes get sentenced to various lengths of prison terms, instead of having these criminal convicts referred to the various mental asylums located around the country (See “Judges Must Be Schooled On Mental Health – Chief Psychiatrist” / 1/3/14).

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First of all, if the Government’s Chief Psychiatrist felt so strongly about the existence and/or prevalence of the problem that he is talking about, the first step ought to have been him writing to either the executive membership of the Ghana Judicial Council and/or Chief Justice Georgina Theodora Wood, instead of storming an Accra Fm radio station in order to make himself and his views publicly heard on the matter. Unless, of course, Dr. Osei can cite at least one instance in which such official notification of the judiciary was off-handedly dismissed or ignored. Then also, he could have officially petitioned the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice.

In all likelihood, the most effective approach would have been for the nation’s Chief Psychiatrist to have conferred with the Inspector-General of the Ghana Police Service (IGP), since the very first port of call of all criminal suspects in the country is the police station, the charge office, to be precise, from which point these criminal suspects are processed and booked for a court appearance. All that the judges can do at this point is to enquire of the prosecuting police officer whether s/he had secured a health certification from a medical expert before presenting the concerned criminal suspect before the court.

Indeed, in a good-case scenario, such mental or general health certification of examination ought to be conducted in all cases, including civil offenses where it is deemed to be relevant and appropriate. This could also involve the hiring of clinical psychologists to participate in the mental and emotional health examination process. Indeed, even as I write (1/4/14), a police inspector in the Wenchi district, in the Brong-Ahafo Region, has just been reportedly killed by a complainant who allegedly fatally assaulted the officer with a machete and a pinch bar – whatever the latter instrument may be – while the now-deceased officer was in the process of writing down the grievances of the complainant.

So, clearly, the problem is much bigger than the mere sentencing of the clinically insane to prison terms. As the Chief Psychiatrist himself suggested not very long ago, if memory serves yours truly accurately, an unusually high percentage of Ghanaians at large may well be suffering from one mental health problem or another. And to be certain, in recent years, Dr. Osei has bitterly complained about the acute shortage of highly trained psychiatrists like himself in the country; and so it is not clear precisely where the psychiatrists required to educate the hundreds of judges and magistrates resident across the country are going to be recruited from.

It is also quite significant to observe that the Chief Psychiatrist is not accusing every judge and/or magistrate in the country of being too slow to ascertain the mental state, or condition, of criminal suspects arraigned before them. In fact, Dr. Osei seems to have on record a remarkable number of judges who know a respectable lot about mental health, and do routinely order “psychiatric assessment” of all criminal suspects arraigned before their benches.

What the preceding clearly means is that there is an urgent need to both upgrade and streamline the procedural guidelines by which criminal court judges operate. This is quite different from having all judges in the country being ordered to seek education or training in the detection of mental health problems among criminal suspects brought into their courtrooms. How about having at least one psychiatrist and one clinical psychologist attached to every courthouse around the country? This definitely could be aptly listed on the priority agenda of the government, or am I grossly mistaken?

Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D. Department of English Nassau Community College of SUNY Garden City, New York


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