ISLAMABAD: The Federal Ombudsman has told the Supreme Court that so far 47 inmates in different jails of Punjab have been tested positive for contagious coronavirus disease.
The ombudsman secretariat made this revelation in its sixth report about status of implementation of jails reforms in Pakistan. The report was submitted to the apex court through senior legal consultant Hafiz Ahsaan Ahmad Khokhar.
The report did not reveal whether Covid-19 affected in any inmates in other three provinces.
According to a report published in The Express Tribune on May 8, some 78 prisoners and jail staff in Punjab’s jails have tested positive for coronavirus. Of these confirmed cases, 44 have recovered, while 34 are still undergoing treatment.
The report quoted prisons department spokesperson Amir Rauf Khawaja, who said 29 prisoners and five jail staff at Lahore District Jail were infected. “Those who were infected by coronavirus elsewhere include 17 prisoners, one jail employee and 17 others.”
He said 17 other cases were reported in five jails. These include three employees in Gujranwala Central Jail, five prisoners in Jhelum District Jail, two prisoners in Bhakkar District Jail and one employee in Shujaabad Sub Jail. Six prisoners in DG Khan Central Jail had also tested positive.
Jail authorities strive to protect inmates from coronavirus
Lodhran Jail Superintendent Ali Gohar Chauhan said that 450 prisoners were shifted to the prison to keep other healthy prisoners safe after the virus spread in Camp Jail, Lahore.
The Supreme Court on April 7 set aside all orders of the high courts and the provincial governments for release of prisoners in view of coronavirus pandemic and ordered authorities to re-arrest people released in compliance with such directives.
The court had, however, approved proposal of the state top law officer – the Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) – to give relief to prisoners accused of minor crimes and vulnerable convicts – old people, women, children – and directed that such people if released should not be taken into custody again.
A five-judge larger bench of the Supreme Court has issued a 10-page order after week-long hearing of a petition filed against release of over 200 under trail prisoners (UTPs) from Rawalpindi’s overcrowded Adiala Jail on basis of March 20 order of the Islamabad High court (IHC).
The SC order had noted that an overcrowded prison, though an inconvenient abode, nonetheless, without a contaminated inmate is a safe place; instead of releasing them all, it is more expedient to screen the each after plugging the new entrants.
“Jail Rules laid down procedures to deal with epidemics and contiguous diseases, in particular, section 7 of the Prisoners Act, 1900 provides complete mechanism to deal with a situation like one in hand."
The report said 45,552 inmates are detained in 45 Punjab jails whose total capacity is sufficient for 35,794 prisoners. Among the prisoner, 16,165 are convicted and 25,058 are under trial prisoners (UTPs).
These inmates comprise 44,839 male, 713 females and 538 juveniles.
In Sindh, in 13,538 inmates are detained in its 24 jails which have a total capacity to house 14,934 prisoners. These inmates include 4,887 convicts and 9,711 UTPs.
This total population is composed of 14,558 males, 217 females and 159 juveniles. However, jails in other small provinces – Khyber Pakhtunkwa (K-P) and Balochistan – are not overcrowded.
According to the report, the Federal Ministry of Interior told the ombudsman that 720 kanal land for Islamabad Model Prison had been acquired at the federal capital’s H-16 Sector.
“PC-I for construction work of the prison has already been approved at a cost of Rs.3.9 billion. Works on the administration block, boundary wall, male barracks, etc, are under process and expected date of completion of the project is 30th June, 2020.”
The report also stated that Punjab Prisons Department submitted that during the last five years, 878, 425 and 241 prisoners appeared in FA, BA and MA examinations, respectively, in the centers established inside the jail premises by different universities in Punjab.
"A MoU [memorandum of understanding] has been signed by Prisons Department with TEVTA [Technical Education & Vocational Training Authority] for providing technical education and vocational training courses including different skills for male, female prisoners and juvenile.
“So far, 15213 prisoners (including 1,951 female and 1,284 juvenile) have qualified for different technical courses, ie, electrician, computer applications, motor winding, and plumber etc," it said.
The Sindh Prisons Department reported that networking of prisons and offices of Inspector General and Deputy Inspector General of Prisons has been completed.
“The final version of the PMIS [Prisoner Management Information System] software will be deployed very soon. As soon as final version is deployed integration of prisons with courts, police, prosecution and NADRA [National Database Registration Authority] will be started,” it said.
Punjab Prison Department has also launched PMIS in collaboration with the Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB) and United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in order to ensure more efficiency and accountability in the functioning of the prisons.
to ensure 100% court appearance of under-trial inmates; and to have complete databank of all inmates. Under this project, computerization of record as well as scanning of prisoners at the time of admission in jail, before/after court production through biometric system has been completed at District Jail, Lahore. The same will be replicated in 20-Prisons of Punjab with an estimated cost of Rs.228 million. The automation of 06-jails of Punjab will be completed in the current fiscal year. Moreover, 9-ATC Courts have been linked to respective Central Jails for video link trial"
The report recommended that the UTPs who are not involved in such heinous crimes, prisoners with HIV, Hepatitis, TB and drug addicts should be segregated and kept apart from other prisoners