Reformative restraints

The fallibility of the criminal justice system is well documented but so is the reformative aspect of our jails

July 31, 2020

The central jail in Peshawar recently got an upgrade for its inmates in the form of an outdoor gymnasium. The facility will offer inmates an opportunity to have some positive physical activity and thus help with their overall mental state as well. This is a positive step by the K-P government which, it is hoped, will be emulated in prisons all over the country.

Prisons in Pakistan are known to be brutal. They are heavily overcrowded where the spread of disease and even crime is rampant. As if the concept of prisons is a place where you lock the bad guys and throw away the key and think the society is purged of the evil. The fallibility of the criminal justice system is well documented but so is the reformative aspect of our jails. We are notorious for throwing in those charged with misdemeanours along with those who have committed far more egregious and heinous crimes, including murder and terrorism. The impact of overcrowding, poor health and bad company can never be good for the reformation of an individual.

With a rising prison population in the country — in part due to an overall rise in the population of the country — there is a need for the authorities to actively look at prisons as not dungeons for the criminally inclined and the forsaken but as centres of behavioural change so that when the prisoners are freed, they can become productive members of society. Years ago at the Karachi central jail, the now-retired IG Prisons Nusrat Mangan, with support from a European country, had started an art programme for prisoners. The programme not only equipped prisoners with a skill they could use when they left prison but also worked as an outlet for their fears and hopes. It helped transform many prisoners and allowed the authorities to use it for positive reinforcement.

Just because they have been convicted does not mean that prisoners do not deserve a second chance at a healthy life.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 31st, 2020.

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