Problems and solutions: Prison authorities, experts suggest reforms for detention centres

The report claims overcrowding is the biggest issue currently being faced at Karachi Central Jail.

Our Correspondent May 07, 2014
Sindh chief secretary Sajjad Saleem Hotiana speaks with prisoners during a visit to the Central Jail in Karachi. PHOTO: INP


Prison authorities want the Sindh government to form two separate forces for jails in the province.

"One force should deal with the management of the detention centres and the other should deal exclusively with security," said Prisons IG Nusrat Mangan on Wednesday. "There should be separation in jail staff too. A constable dealing with terrorists should not be tasked with looking after women and juvenile inmates."

IG Mangan was speaking at the launch of a report, 'Sindh Prison Reforms: Through the Lens of Legal Aid, From Current Issues to Recommending Security and Legislative Measures' by the Legal Aid Office (LAO).

Mangan revealed that last week, the Sindh government had granted them Rs750 million to improve security measures. The funds would be used to construct bomb-proof walls around jails in Karachi, Hyderabad and Sukkur.

According to the officer, the majority of inmates in the province were under-trial-prisoners.

With a total capacity of around 11,827 prisoners, the jails in Sindh were currently catering to around 18,651 inmates. Of these, 3,400 were convicts while the rest were UTPs.

He said that the number of prisoners had been reduced to 16,000 last year, from 22,000 in 2008 and 2009. But from December 2013, the figure had jumped to 18,651 and was increasing with each passing day.

CPLC chief Ahmed Chinoy, who was part of the audience, questioned Mangan about the presence of mobile phones in the jail. He also asked why people living in the vicinity were made to suffer because of the jammers and why only one cellular company was functioning properly in the area.

Mangan replied that the jammers were being narrowed down and that no cellular company services were reaching the prisoners. He admitted, however, that the infiltration of mobile phones was a problem, not just in Pakistan, but in many countries.

The report

Advocate and Professor Dr Akmal Wasim gave an overview of the report, based on the interviews of 2,333 UTPs, as well as interviews of officials. He said that one of the major problems in Karachi's prison was overcrowding. "Overcrowding is a major issue at the Karachi Central Jail. In contrast, the rest of the prisons in Sindh are under-populated."

The report suggests that there should be a reduction in the length of stay of prisoners to curb this issue.

Wasim also emphasised on the separation and segregation of the inmates, saying that Section 27 of the Prisons Act, 1894, dealt with this right.

"The ordinary ones should be separated from the hardened, and the hardened from terrorists. Similarly, juveniles should be separated from adults."  For this, more facilities should be built, he said, adding that the Sindh government should increase the budget for prisons.

Wasim also called for relocation of prisons. "Prisons are at risk because they are part of residential areas. They have to be moved out."

The report suggests that prisons, for various reasons, ranging from socio-economic forces to ideological cohesion, serve as breeding grounds for the recruitment of violent extremists. It quoted the attack on Justice Maqbool Baqir last year and how it was planned by prisoners.

Retired Justice Nasir Aslam Zahid, who is the chairperson and founder of the LAO, said that the prisons in Pakistan were better in terms of population, compared to jails in India and Bangladesh.

Addressing members of his fraternity, he said that lawyers should be more responsible when handling cases of people behind bars, urging them to keep their prejudices and biasness away from their work.

HRCP's IA Rehman called for training and reform activities in jails. He was of the opinion that a person's dignity was at stake when he entered the jail premises as he was cut off from his family, and faced humiliation from others too.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 8th, 2014.


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