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NONCUSTODIAL MEASURES

Probation

A juvenile court has the power to make a probation order, should it be in the best interest of the juvenile, based on the recommendations of the SER.[1] Such an order would put the juvenile under the supervision of a social worker for the duration of the order which could normally cover any period between 6 months and 18 months,[2] unless the juvenile is still subject to a fit person order after the expiration of the probation period. A probation order may be with or without conditions.[3]

The constant references to “probation officer” in the Act, as well as plans to introduce noncustodial alternatives to adults, indicate the growing importance of the probation system to the new reforms. The Probation Service is currently in use for juveniles only, but its inadequate numbers give cause for concern. A 2009 study indicated that there were only 127 probation officers nationwide.[4] Though very few, they perform important functions such as tracing families of newly arrested juveniles; paying visits to the homes of juveniles, schools, and other locations where information about a juvenile may be collected in order to prepare a social enquiry report; and then following up to ensure that the juvenile gets taken to and from the juvenile court during the hearing as well as post-committal duties. These duties require a large body of trained staff, as they have to crisscross their districts, ensuring that juveniles under their care receive the necessary attention.

The absence of professional counselors within the Probation Service is also very evident. Since it is widely known that most inmates tend to be from homes broken either by divorce, separation, desertion, or death, it is by no means complimentary of the system that not much effort is made to address the circumstances that have operated to create delinquency in each inmate.[5] There is an undue emphasis on Christian “counseling” (though more in the nature of Christian teaching) in the institution which is somewhat unhealthy. For instance, of the practitioners of the three major religions that are active in Ghana, the representation among the inmates is as follows:

Religion

2012

2013

Christian

28

30

Muslim

11

7

Traditional Religion

9

8

This means that although the Christian group predominates, at least 20 of the 48 admitted in 2012 and 15 of the 45 admitted in 2013 would not find that form of counseling more as acts of proselytizing rather than counseling that is intended to serve the ends of reform and rehabilitation. There is clearly no reason to overemphasize Christian religious teaching, which, admittedly, did fill a void in times past, when the Christian groups were the only ones who made visits to prisons and provided material assistance to inmates. This history has therefore become a part of the culture in Ghana’s custodial institutions, but it need not go on, now that everyone has a constitutional right to practice their own religion. Fortunately, there are now opportunities for recruiting professional counselors, and this must be actively pursued to fill a much needed gap in the effort to reshape the lives of inmates.

  • [1] Section 31 (1) and (2)
  • [2] Section 31 (5)
  • [3] Section 31 (3) and (4)
  • [4] Children in Ghana, Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs/UNICEF, 2009, p136
  • [5] Chute, L.C., “Objectives of the Juvenile Courts” in Juvenile Offenders, Charles Thomas,Springfield, Illinois, 1963, p191
 
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