The Supreme Court on Monday issued a damning verdict on the plight of women inmates, citing a near total failure of any regulatory framework in relation to the condition of prisons.
The pronouncement came after the two-judge bench of the apex court, headed by Justice Jawwad S Khawaja, pored over a raft of figures, statistics and reports. In a 17-page order in the suo motu case regarding the miserable condition of women in jails, the bench said that no official or body appears to have been effective in implementing the prison laws and rules to ensure the welfare of prisoners. The hearing of the case will be taken up on July 29, wherein Law and Justice Commission of Pakistan (LJCP) will submit a comprehensive report.
According to the data presented before the apex court, at the end of April this year, the total prison population in Pakistan was approximately 82,779 inmates against an authorised capacity of 46,705 housed in 88 jails across the country.
While the population of male inmates exceeds more than half, the number of women inmates is still below the jail capacity. According to the data, 80,611 males are imprisoned against actual housing capacity of 44,309. However, 2,168 females are in prison against total capacity of 2,396.
The bench also referred to the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report in its order. “During the prison survey, UNODC found prevalence of suicidal depression, sleep disorders and other mental illness among female prisoners. No gynaecologist was available to call to attend to female prisoners in Punjab,” the order read.
The Supreme Court order says that in Punjab, the Human Rights and Minorities Affairs Department is responsible for visiting police stations, prisons and borstal jails to report to the competent authorities for necessary action against violation of human rights.
The court has asked the department to submit a copy of its monitoring and evaluation framework relating to its three last visits with the court through LJCP.
The apex court said that the inspector general of prisons exercises overall operational control and supervision of all prisons in the province. It asked the home department to submit its plan to effectively monitor prisons and evaluate prison services.
The bench has also pointed out that the jail superintendent is responsible for the day to day functioning of individual prisons as he is required to visit the prison at least every working day. Jail superintendents are required to file an annual report in January each year, the SC said adding that a copy of annual report of each prison be submitted to the court as well.
The district coordination officer is empowered to visit and inspect all prisons in his district and can issue necessary directions. The top court has asked to submit the record of their visit through LJCP.
It further observed that District Criminal Justice Coordination Committee is chaired by district and session judge is mandated to review the operation of the criminal justice system and send recommendations to provincial high court registrar, but it is not clear what actions have been taken for implementation of such recommendations. The court has sought report from high court registrars regarding the performance of committee.
In pursuance of the National Judicial Policy 2009, the order says that district & sessions judges are required to visit jails on a monthly basis to hear prisoners’ complaints However, it said that based on the review of the monthly reports, there is no standardised monitoring and evaluation template for effective judicial inspections.
“The high court may formulate a detailed monitoring and evaluation template and judicial inspections may be monitored by the high court monitoring & inspection terms and reported to the court through LJCP”
For the purpose of independent civic oversight, the court said that the government may appoint non-official visitors, who are required to visit their appointed prison at least once a month with or without prior information.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 21st, 2015.