While officers of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa police force may soon be fully vaccinated against Covid-19, inmates at detention centres across the province remain vulnerable.
According to jail sources, during the first and second wave of the pandemic, 13 prisoners tested positive for the coronavirus at the Peshawar Central Jail (PCJ), which was once reputed for its most famous inmate, Dr Shakil Afridi, the medic who assisted the Central Intelligence Agency track down Osama Bin Laden.
While the super spreader has not infiltrated K-P jails as it has in other parts of the country, the violations of safety precautions paint a grim picture. With an inmate capacity of 1,000, and a daily intake of 120 to 170, the situation at the PCJ — where offenders are housed in cramped, dark barracks in the old prison building — can be succinctly described as ‘sitting on a ticking time bomb’.
Sarfaraz, 37, a Peshawar resident wanted by the police in a murder case, made some stunning revelations to The Express Tribune stating that from the entrance gate of the jail to the barracks, only about 20 per cent of the security personnel, including the office staff, prison wardens, and other personnel, wear masks. The only precaution taken is a temperature check at the time of entry.
Sarfraz was associated with a CD and audio cassette business in Peshawar before he was taken into custody along with four others and moved to Central Jail Peshawar. Sarfraz and his friends had gotten into an argument with some people which resulted in the killing of one.
Talking to The Express Tribune, the offender said that after arrest they were kept in the barracks for three to four days with more than 30 prisoners and there was no medical staff to check for fever or Covid symptoms. “Let alone masks, even soap is not available and all that is given for Covid is a Panadol pill,” he said.
Similarly, another inmate, who has been in the Peshawar Central Jail in a murder case for the past two years, on condition of anonymity, told The Express Tribune that only VIPs get a place in the prison hospital while the rest of the inmates must rely on visitors to get medicine as the drugs available in jail are costly.
Talking to Express Tribune, IG Prisons Khalid Abbas said, “Quarantine centres were set up in prisons, which immensely helped curtail the first, second and third waves of Covid for the approximately 11,000 inmates of K-P jails.” He further stated that as part of the prisons reform drive drug rehabilitation centres were being set up in jails.
The K-P prison department states that the vaccination process has commenced in 38 prisons of the province, with about 7,000 prisoners and 3,200 staff members vaccinated so far.
However, despite the vaccination drive if SOPs are not adhered to the risk of a Covid outbreak looms large.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 28th, 2021.
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