The Situation of Prisons Across Pakistan
After the partition of United India, two new countries emerged on to the surface of earth namely Pakistan and India. Like various laws and systems these two new countries also inherited the same prison system from the British as a colonial legacy. The system of prison was primarily designed to detain freedom fighters, and those who possessed voice against the British Imperialism in United India. While the history of Western society’s use of punishment dates back to tortures and public executions at the scaffold till 17th century; it was characterized by a legally approved discrimination, violence, revenge, and penitence during Medieval and Ancient times. Prison as a place of punishment after conviction, is an 18th century invention. This is a humanitarian alternative to harsh and brutal penal methods of the dark age.
Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s report ‘State of Human Rights in 2014’ provides detailed information about the current situation of violent and notorious jails in Pakistan. The report encapsulates information and extensive research work as well as facts and figures relating to human rights along with the overall view of state of human rights in 2014 in Pakistan. The chapter dealing with jails of Pakistan is interesting as it provides that prisoners in different jails of Pakistan face number of chronic issues for instance, food hygiene, sexual harassment, lack of health care system, rampant torture, and overcrowding. It is right to say that reforming prison rules have never been seriously contemplated by any government as the above mentioned issues have been there since a long time. The Constitution of Pakistan contains a number of Articles with special significance for prison administration, particularly regarding the treatment of prisoners. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report that 800 or so female prisoners face harassment and lack of proper health care system in different jails of Pakistan in the year 2014. The female prisoners in jails in the year 2014 faced sexual harassment and sexual violence at the hands of wardens of jail. The report of UNODC envisages that there was no gynaecologist available on call to attend female prisoner in jails of Pakistan for female prisoners. The report further highlights that female prisoners were found in critical conditions for instance, most of female prisoners were suffering from sleeping disorder, dominance of suicidal depression, and other mental imbalance.
The report further goes on to provide that the government of Punjab in February 2014 released 1 billion to prison department for jails for the fiscal year of 2014. The aim behind the approval of releasing 1 billion by the government was to improve living mechanism of inmates in jails for instance medical care system, food hygiene, building new barracks, improving security inside jails etc. Till then 6,099 million had been spent on the mentioned issues. For the 2013-2014 financial years Rs 819 million was spent out of 1.09 billion to address issues faced by the prisoners. However, 271 million was sent to the government by the prisoner department as unspent. The prisoner authorities miserably failed to spend the full allocation on jails in order to improve the living standards and address the issues of prisoners.
In all prisons across Pakistan except for Gilgit-Balistan, the population of inmates exceed the sanctioned capacity. The noteworthy point which was illustrated in the report is that in Punjab alone the excess was about 130%. Last year a lawyer filed a writ petition in Lahore High Court pertaining to overcrowded jails across Punjab. The Deputy Inspector General in response informed the court that six new jails would be operational across Punjab in order to curtail the population of inmates in current jails. The DIG provided that high security jails in Layyah, Okara, Bhakkar, etc had been fully equipped with facilities with additional staff recruited as well. The court asked for detail of other 11 new jails from DIG. To date none of these jails are functional. The announcement of construction of new jails across Punjab was made in 2012 by the PML-N government when a preliminary budget of 400 million was released for 10 new jails across Punjab to be built. The concerned Minister on the floor of Punjab Assembly said mobile jammers had been installed in 14 jails of Punjab and efforts to install jammers in rest of the jails are being made. Moreover, family rooms had been constructed in Multan and Faisalabad jails in 2014.
Over population, unhygienic food, sexual harassment, violence, lack of adequate medical care is ever lasting predicament of prisoners across Pakistan. In 2014, the Minister for Prisons noted that there were 80 HIV, and 30 Aids affected prisoners across Punjab. Furthermore, he said standard of food within jails has improved as per head cost of food has increased to 80.9 rupees. The report published by HRCP highlighted that in 2013 and 2014 the situation of prisons across Punjab was horrible and unsatisfactory and failed to see improvement in food quality. The efforts of government had no effect on prisoners across Punjab. As, 17 prisoners in District Jail, Swat in the month of October last year died for eating substandard food in jail. In lieu of which two officers on duty were held liable and suspended subsequently.
In culmination, I submit that there is an urgent need to bring forward reform policy for prisons across Punjab. The government of Punjab needs to take serious note of living standards of prisoners detained in different jails of Punjab. The food quality, over population in jails, inadequate medical care system in jails should be contemplated while considering reform policy for jails. I further stress on the importance of providing free legal aid to those who are detained because of minor offences so that they are released without spending much time in jail. Hardened criminals must be segregated from those prisoners who have committed minor offences. The normal practice of sexual violence and sexual harassment on women by warden must be a part of reform policy. Rehabilitation classes should be established for juveniles in order to make them reasonable and responsible citizens of Pakistan when released from jails. At last, I contend that Pakistan must get rid of medieval times styles of punishment and introduce non penal social engineering. The concept of jails in modern century seems to be inhumane and volatile. I make a request to policy makers and police to seriously take up the matter of reforming jails across Pakistan instead of producing mere statements.
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