Supreme Court is Wrong on Prisoner Franchise – By Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.

Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.
The recent ruling by the Ghanaian Supreme Court that prisoners have a right to vote in national elections, flagrantly violates the fundamental purpose for which the punitive and disciplinary institution of incarceration was established (See “Prisoners to Vote in 2012 Elections – Prez. Mills” 11/8/11). As clearly observed in a previous article, allowing prisoners to vote violates the very practically and historically meaningful purpose for which these societal offenders were immured, to begin with. For, needless to say, the Fourth-Republican Ghanaian Constitution clearly stipulates that the right to vote is a sacred privilege and trust unreservedly granted to Ghanaian citizens who are of sound mind, emotional and psychological poise and law-abiding.

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If the foregoing observation has validity, then it stands to reason that breakers of the law are by this very fact not responsible citizens and thus cannot be entrusted with the responsible exercising of the franchise. It also follows from the latter premise that breakers of the law may likely not be of sound mind. In other words, it takes a person who is at least emotionally troubled to willfully break the law. And about the only valid exception to the foregoing are political prisoners whose imprisonment can be amply demonstrated to be purely predicated on ideological dissension, rather than sheer acts of treason and/or sedition.

Since I am, of course, not privy to the exact details based upon which the Supreme Court arrived at its decision of permitting prison inmates access to the franchise, it is quite difficult to fathom the rationale and/or logic behind the same. Nonetheless, such concession clearly presupposes the implicit declaration by the same court of the imperative need to abolishing the entire prison system which, in effect, also implies the need for Ghanaians to summarily scrap our entire British-inherited judicial protocol. Of course, the critical reader is well aware of the fact that such a trend would logically lead to a Hobbesian state of anomie, one that direly verges on the Darwinian principle of survival of the fittest.

Clearly, the preceding could not have been the primary motivation of the Supreme Court; and it is for this very fact that Chief Justice Georgina Wood and her associates need to promptly reconsider their decision. Needless to say, at the judicial minimum, the Court ought to have called for the matter to be put to a nationwide referendum come Election 2012.

A far more significant problem here, however, is that unless both the Ghanaian Supreme Court and the Mills government can practically demonstrate to the nation at large that fundamentally speaking, prisoners have been adequately availed of access to the kind of knowledge and information necessary to enable each and every one of them to make intelligent decisions, in much the same manner as the rest of our law-abiding citizenry. For, it goes without saying that the legitimate exercise of the franchise is about the socioeconomic, political and cultural destiny of the country. And on the foregoing score, we cannot afford to be left behind the comity of civilized nations around the globe.

Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D., is Associate Professor of English, Journalism and Creative Writing at Nassau Community College of the State University of New York, Garden City. He is Director of The Sintim-Aboagye Center for Politics and Culture and author of “Ghanaian Politics Today” (, 2008).


The opinions expressed are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views or have the endorsement of the Editorial Board of