Earlier this week, at least seven jail inmates were killed in riots that broke out at the central jail in Hyderabad, reportedly after suspension of gas and electricity to their barracks. The nature of this riot highlights the problems with jails in the country. In this particular jail, there are around 1,700 inmates, though it is made to house only 1,527. Overcrowding is, in fact, a common problem, and one which exacerbates other inconveniences. Not only are prisoners living in cramped quarters, those locked in for petty crimes end up coming into frequent contact with hardened criminals, hardly making for a rehabilitating environment. Even in this case, the police officer incharge of the area is reported to have claimed that most crimes are being patronised from inside the jails, including kidnapping for ransom by hardened criminals.
One can only speculate as to the effect close proximity with such criminals, who may be in for years, will have on petty criminals, or even under-trial prisoners, who may, if the judicial system so allows, be released into society much sooner. Added to this, the level of nutrition provided to the prisoners is very low, and when compounded with problems such as suspension in the supply of gas, it is little wonder that riots will break out when the prisoners are deprived of their morning tea.
In other jails across the country, conditions are reported to be much worse, with reports of prisoners sleeping on the floor, in gloomy, unhygienic conditions. Conditions for women in jail are just as bad, and their infant children are exposed to the same surroundings. Furthermore, thousands of jailed Pakistani children continue to suffer physical and other abuse, as they are often also locked in with hardened criminals. Criminals are jailed to prevent them from bringing harm to society or themselves, and jailing people does not give the system the right to deprive them of basic fundamental human rights. It is time that more attention was paid to the implementation of the much-awaited jail reforms across the country.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 21st, 2011.