KARACHI: A ceremony marking the recovery of 274 inmates infected with the coronavirus was held at Karachi Central Jail on Sunday, as the total number of infected prisoners at the jail rose to 894.
Speaking on the matter, Karachi Central Jail superintendent Muhammad Hassan Sahito confirmed to The Express Tribune that 274 prisoner, besides 11 policemen, had recovered from the deadly infection, while 620 inmates were still in quarantine. The superintendent said that so far, 3,559 prisoners had been screened for the virus.
Keeping in view the rise in the number of infected prisoner, 180 officials have been deployed at the jail to deal with the situation, he said.
During the celebrations, the recovered prisoners appreciated the efforts of the jail administration, stating that they had been able to beat the virus due to the effective arrangements made by jail officials.
They said that the administration had provided them face masks, hand sanitisers and other items required to prevent the spread of the virus, as well as best possible medical treatment.
The first case of coronavirus in Central Jail was reported on May 11 after which the number of cases increased exponentially.
Following this, the jail administration took several precautionary measures, including restricting prisoners’ families from visit them, not taking infected prisoners to courts for hearings, installing disinfectant gates and additional wash basins, providing sanitary products to inmates and ensuring thorough cleaning of the jail premise.
Besides, when the virus made its presence known in Sindh, prison authorities had voiced fears of a catastrophic outbreak in the jails, pointing out that the overcrowding and confined quarters meant that a single infected prisoner could rapidly infected hundreds of other inmates.
In a letter to the Sindh home department, Prisons IG Nusrat Ali Mangan had written that overcrowding at the province’s prisons posed an imminent threat and could lead to the spread of the coronavirus in the cells.
There are currently over 16,000 prisoners housed in Sindh’s 24 jails - which have an actual capacity of 13,500 inmates. Karachi Central Jail has the highest number of prisoners, holding 3,619 inmates opposed to its capacity of 2,400. The number used to be even higher - there were over 5,000 prisoners at the prison at one point.
After the pandemic hit Sindh, hundreds of inmates were shifted from the jail to prisons in other parts of the province in order to reduce the population held at the Central Jail.
Jail authorities explained that the decision to transfer the prisoners had been made because the jails in other districts of Sindh had fewer inmates. It has reportedly been a tradition in the past that when a jail became overcrowded, its inmates were shifted to other prisons.
In March, the Sindh government and Prisons IG Nusrat Ali Mangan had also made plans to reduce the sentences of prisoners and release a number of those who had committed minor offences early, while the Sindh High Court, too, had ordered the release of 829 under-trial prisoners.
However, the Supreme Court later set aside this order, directing authorities to re-arrest those who had been released, apart from those accused of minor crimes and those belonging to vulnerable groups such as the elderly, women and children.
Meanwhile, quarantine centres were also established in all the prisons in Sindh, where all new inmates were quarantined upon intake for up to 14 days. Mangan had earlier also declared it mandatory to provide coronavirus clearance certificates for any new prisoners before they are put in any jails in the province.
Around 200 new inmates enter the province’s prisons on a daily basis, with the potential to infect other prisoners who have little contact with the outside world.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 15th, 2020.