Prisons are a hard space – a number of criminals, with varying behaviour, are confined in small quarters. In Pakistan, prisons are generally overcrowded. Owing to these reasons, the Federal Ombudsperson had presented a set of recommendations to ensure that prisoners come out of jails in somewhat better shape from when they had gone inside in terms of health and education, at least. It is heartening to note that only months after these recommendations had been presented on the directives of the top court, most of the provinces have started implementing them in varying degrees.
In Punjab, for example, the government has started screening prisoners and has found that at least in Rawalpindi’s Adiyala Jail there are no HIV-positive prisoners, but there are more than 300 Hepatitis prisoners there. Elsewhere in Punjab, the government is working on setting up detoxification centres within jails for those addicted to drugs. Moreover, psychologists are being hired at jails across the province to work on the mental health of prisoners. In Sindh, the government is working on setting up separate barracks for prisoners who are either infected with contagious diseases or are addicted to drugs to keep them away from the general prison population and prevent further spread of infections. Both Sindh and Balochistan have started treatment programmes for prisoners as well. Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa is working out the best possible ways to implement the ombudsperson’s recommendations. Efforts have also been made to increase access to educational material.
Issues in Pakistan’s jails extend far beyond drug addiction and infections. Overcrowding and cleanliness are some of the biggest issues which contribute to most if not all the issues in our prisons. Some of these can be solved without massive infrastructure investments. A will in a prison goes a long way to reforms. In this regard, those mentioned above are all very encouraging measures that can really help the authorities turn our jails into true reform institutions rather than mere punitive centres.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 17th, 2019.