Bursting at the seams

Published: August 8, 2019

It is a long-persisting malady awaiting remedial measures. It is a bitter truth about prisons in Pakistan that they are bursting at the seams. So far we have seen little action to rectify things.

The federal ombudsman has informed the Supreme Court that at present there are 80,145 prisoners in 98 jails of the country against their total capacity for 56, 495. This is a disconcerting situation that more than 24,000 prisoners are lodged in Pakistani prisons against their capacity to house 56,495 prisoners.

What is further disturbing is that of the 80,145 prisoners, 51,674 are under trial and 24,280 are convicted. This has been revealed in the federal ombudsman’s third quarterly implementation report on the status of improving conditions in jails. The fact that the majority of prison inmates are under trial once again brings to the fore the proverbial law’s delay.

The authorities should take steps to expedite trials so that the guilt or innocence of the under-trial prisoners can be established without delay. This will save prisoners from undergoing prolonged angst of living in jail environment.

The report has made several recommendations to improve conditions in prisons. It has suggested that provincial and district oversight committees be reactivated; provincial oversight committees (POCs) should take the lead in this regard.

Regular visits at least once a month by district oversight committees be undertaken and visit reports be submitted regularly to POCs and to the Wafaqi Mohtasib secretariat. If needed, fresh induction from civil society, retired civil servants, judicial officers, members of trade bodies and the bar should be made.

Rehabilitation centres for the mentally deranged, drug addicts and juvenile prisoners should be reactivated or set up. Other recommendations are about improving medical and educational facilities inside prisons.

Experiences penned by those who have spent jail time give a good idea about unsatisfactory conditions that prevail in prisons. We hope conditions will keep on improving.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 8th, 2019.

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