Overcrowded jails: a sinkhole back to crime

Maladministration has turned Pakistan’s prisons into institutes of higher criminal learning


ISLAMABAD: Appalling conditions in Pakistani jails, filled beyond capacity with prisoners often deprived of basic rights and suffering inhumane treatment, has become a major factor in criminal recidivism.

The Constitution and the Prisoner's Manual not only guarantee right to life to every prisoner but provide freedom to engage in education, health and physical activities, and access to legal aid. But maladministration at federal and provincial levels has turned jails into institutes of higher criminal learning rather than schools for rehabilitation.

The 98 jails across the country have a capacity of 56,628 prisoners, but house around 83,000 inmates. Worryingly, only 25,195 are convicted prisoners, including around 2,000 women, 1,225 juvenile offenders, and 4,688 death penalty convicts. The other 48,680 prisoners are under trial.


Documents provided by the Federal Ombudsperson’s office show the Punjab government has 41 jails, of which nine are central jails and 31 are district jails, along with a high-security prison in Sahiwal. Against a capacity of 33,235, the jails house 51,535 prisoners of which 50,642 are men, 893 women and 669 are juveniles. Only 17,710 of these are convicts including 3,890 death penalty prisoners, while 26,522 are under trial.

The 24 jails in Sindh include six central jails, 13 district jails, and three separate jails for women and dangerous inmates. Their total capacity is 12,413 but 18,507 inmates are actually held, of which only 3,920 are convicts and 14,000 are under trial. At least 192 of the convicts are women, 165 are juvenile prisoners, and 525 are death penalty convicts.

Of 22 jails in K-P, six are central jails and 14 are district jails which hold 10,358 prisoners against a total capacity of only 8,395 prisoners. There are 2,993 convicted prisoners while 7,150 inmates await or are under trial. Inmates include 218 women, 382 juvenile prisoners, and 215 death penalty convicts.

Despite being least developed, Balochistan’s share of criminal convicts is lower than other provinces and the situation in jails is also better. There are 11 jails of which five are central jails and six are district jails. Against a capacity of 2,585, the jails house 2,213 prisoners, of which 937 are convicts, 20 are women, 50 are juveniles, and 58 are death penalty convicts.

Due to foot-dragging on the federal government’s part, a jail is still not available in Islamabad and construction has been pending since 2009. The facility was inaugurated by then interior minister Ahsan Iqbal in 2018, but no real work has begun yet. According to the Islamabad administration, 90 acres of land was acquired for the Islamabad Model Jail, which will have a capacity of 2,000 and cost Rs3.9 billion. The lack of a jail means Islamabad’s 1,800-plus prisoners are kept in Rawalpindi's Adiala Jail, increasing risks during transportation of under-trial inmates.

Officials at the federal ombudsperson’s office said they have forwarded their recommendations to the Supreme Judicial Council. According to the recommendations, governments must computerise prison records and update them on a daily basis, verifying prisoners using NADRA’s biometric system. The office also stressed higher education authorities have a moral responsibility to affiliate jails with universities to provide prisoners free education. The officials admitted lack of jails was the biggest issue, and the construction of new ones the only solution.


Rigorous imprisonment

Despite lack of resources and facilities compared to developed nations, different levels of punishment have been introduced in Pakistan to rehabilitate prisoners and make them better citizens.

Every prisoner has to work eight hours, but, influential prisoners are often provided assistants. Prisoners usually have to grind flour, cook, and clean the jail. Some are assigned to paint different areas or move bricks, while skilled workers are tasked with plastering and repairing things.

Those with gardening skills are assigned horticulture work, while those with technical aptitude are taught special courses to qualify them as plumbers or auto mechanics. Graduates and hafiz-e-Quran inmates can be tasked with teaching religious and other educational courses, for which they receive a monthly allowance of Rs1,500 to Rs2,000.

The jail superintendent has the authority to reduce punishments by 15 to 20 days every year for prisoners showing good behavior.

Provincial governments have so far failed to provide separate jails to underage and women prisoners, but there are different punishments for minors and women prisoners. Uneducated women do handicrafts while children are provided education.

There is also a separate security block for VIP prisoners. According to jail sources, graduates, political personalities, and top officers of the government are eligible for B class facilities and are usually not only kept away from other prisoners but provided a separate room, bed, mattress, chair and torch. If the jail administration grants permission, the VIP can also make use of a fan, room cooler, AC, TV newspaper, and other facilities. B class prisoners are mostly offered rigorous punishment in the form of dispensing educational responsibilities.


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