“When I see inmates going to school and bettering their lives – I get a lot of satisfaction from that.”
Superintendent (Supt) Adamu Latif Abdul, a prison officer at the Nsawam Male prison, has been working in the Ghana Prisons Service for more than ten years. His background in psychology drew him to join the service, and he continues to love his job.
“I became a prison officer because I wanted to help some of the most vulnerable people in society – those who have overstepped the law. I wanted to help them overcome their challenges and develop themselves for the better.”
I often meet ex-inmates. I once boarded public transport and as the attendant took the fares, he skipped me,” Supt Abdul Latif shared. “I couldn’t understand why. He looked me in the eyes and asked if I remembered him. When I said I didn’t, he said, ‘Block 4’. He thanked me for what I did for him and said he couldn’t take my fare.”
Of course, Supt Abdul Latif insisted that he take his fare – but for him, the experience served as a powerful example of the impact a prison officer can have on an inmate’s life.
Supt Abdul Latif works closely with prisoners because of his role in the correctional diagnostic center at the Nsawam Male prison. This center was the first in Ghana to begin assessing prisoners’ risks and needs on an individual basis – a practice which is now being piloted in four prisons, with support from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). After the pilot concludes, UNODC will offer further training to allow the practice to be rolled out across all Ghana’s prisons.
On the day we spoke to Supt Abdul Latif, he had just attended UNODC’s “training of trainers” workshop on the classification of prisoners.
“Prisoner classification is a systematic way of assigning prisoners to security levels so that we can manage their risk and meet their needs,” Supt Abdul Latif explained. “The risk assessment element identifies the factors that increase the risk of them reoffending, while the needs assessment lets us understand what needs to be done to reduce that risk of reoffending. From there, we can plan their sentences.”
Supt Abdul Latif is excited for the next few years. He foresees large-scale changes ahead, as the Director General of the Ghana Prisons Service is keen to collaborate with UNODC to align the service with relevant international standards and norms.
“The old mentality that prison management is all about security will shift,” he predicts. “There will be a greater emphasis on classifying prisoners and meeting their needs, and from there enhancing security.
“Personally, I have benefitted from UNODC’s involvement – you have improved my knowledge, professional outlook and how I approach my work. UNODC is helping to bring the prison system up to the level where we can compare ourselves to other advanced jurisdictions in terms of best practices.”
UNODC’s work with the Ghana Prisons Service is part of the global programme on addressing prison challenges, as well as the regional programme for West Africa and its project, ‘Strengthening the compliance of the Ghana Prisons Service with the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules)’, funded by the United States’ State Department.
The Nelson Mandela Rules are the universally recognized blueprint for good prison management in the 21st century. They aim to protect the human rights of all prisoners – one of the most vulnerable groups in society to rights abuses.
Supt Abdul Latif values the Nelson Mandela Rules not only for their impact on prisoners’ lives, but also for how they support rehabilitation, which makes society safer for everyone. “You cannot change a hungry man. You cannot change someone you don’t respect. You must meet a person’s basic needs and respect them if you are going to influence them for the better.”
Supt Abdul Latif has one goal in mind: to support more prisoners towards a positive, productive life when they rejoin society. “Prisoners go on to all sorts of things – some are car drivers, some are in school, some run home businesses. When you see them, you feel proud of yourself as a correctional officer and you feel proud of them, of their hard work.”
To learn more about the Nelson Mandela Rules, click here.