As women from all nations celebrated International Women’s Day on March 8, there was one more voice of solidarity among them, thanks to a team of Fordham University law students.
Patricia Manso, a Ghanaian teenager, was sent to the Kumasi Central Prison in 2006, charged as an accomplice in the rape and murder of her friend by her uncle. Manso, who was poor and illiterate, had been in her uncle’s fosterage since the age of five in the rural village of Dunkwao.
Three years later, Manso was still in prison, having never seen a lawyer and never been before a judge, said Corina Bogaciu (LAW ’09), member of the Access to Justice Project at the Leitner Center for International Law and Justice.
“The system is so broken that prisoners are never brought to court,” said Bogaciu, who surveyed the project for the Leitner Center. “Files are lost. Fictitious charges are not uncommon. Often there is not even an investigation.
“Patricia was just a kid when she was brought in, and has been living with fully grown women, wasting away in prison for something she hadn’t done,” said Bogaciu.
Project member and third-year law student Robert Cornwell said that conditions in the prison were so crowded that the women had to sleep in shifts on the floor or on what available beds there were.
“If you have a powerful family, you can usually get to court,” he said. “But there is no public defender system and many prisoners—Patricia included—have lost contact with their families.”
The Access to Justice Project was designed by a team of students from Fordham Law and the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST). In conducting interviews at the prison, students concentrated on prisoners who had been in jail for more than a year on dubious charges.
Manso and 60 other hand-picked prisoners were finally given their “day in court” when the project was granted authority by the Ghanaian Attorney General to try prisoners on site. Most of them have been released.
Manso’s uncle still remains incarcerated, but the young woman has become a ward of the family of Ernest Abotsi, lecturer at KNUST and Ghanaian supervisor of the project.
“She wants to learn sewing,” said Bogaciu, “and she is learning how to read.”
The Access to Justice Project is part of the Leitner Center’s International Sustainable Development Clinic.