Recidivism and Prison Reforms in Punjab
Amidst the political backlash faced by the government for detaining whoever it lays its finger on (allegedly for all the right reasons), we tend to focus primarily on privileged prisoners rather than unattended victims of prison who suffer the wrath of injustice. Suppressing the voice of the unheard has its consequences, which in our case has resulted in 48,794 neglected inmates languishing in 40 Punjab prisons according to the Punjab Prisons Department.
These statistics, though hard to make peace with in a practical sense, indeed depict that the country in shambles. The Crisis Group in a 2011 report also described the “overpopulated, understaffed and poorly managed” prison system of Pakistan as a “fertile breeding ground for criminality and militancy, with prisoners more likely to return to crime than to abandon it.”
Furthermore, it is also well heard of how there is a shortage of necessities and failure to provide adequate capacity for chock-full of prisons. Unfortunately, the authorities responsible for the well-being of prisoners are sometimes the aggravators themselves. The idea of reforms involving mobile jammers, death cells, surveillance cameras and anything which helps repress inmates is more than welcomed, resulting in a mockery of the system. Such reforms do not unfold the actual criterion that needs to be established to produce ‘good Samaritans’.
Before developing a viewpoint against the Pakistani prison system, it must be noted that the situation of prisons worldwide is troublesome. Overcrowding, harassment and unhygienic conditions are present all around. Other countries, nonetheless, are aware of the issues and determined to address them. For example, ‘recidivism’ has never been explored in detail in Pakistan while other states base their policies on the rate of repeat offenders. Australia has been able to deduce how a reduction of only 15% of repeat offenders in a single country can result in the reduction of a $23 million budget. In the UK, drug abuse treatment has resulted in a positive reduction of repeat offenders engaged in drug-related crimes.
The question that arises here is of consistency. Are prisoners consistent in committing crimes despite serving jail-time? If so, what good are the punishments if crimes are still on the rise and prisons are still swarming? When laws such as Sections 302 and 304 of the Pakistan Penal Code come into play, the two main punishments in our criminal justice system are imprisonment and death. The punishment in our system is perceived to be confined to abuse and torture while positive reinforcement of punishment has no place in our law. The last amendment to Prison Rules accompanying the Prisons Act 1894 had been made in 1978, which too did not shed any light on the need for positive reforms. As soon as an inmate is done serving the sentence, he or she is free from the hands of law – nothing gained, a lot lost.
The foremost step to be taken here is to have a record of those who recidivate. The record could be maintained separately for each province, divided between men, women and juveniles, and range from serious offences to minor offences. The record could be made retrospectively. If the percentage of repeat offenders is supposedly high, policies could be implemented depending on whether the offences are grave or getting graver.
But before framing policies, reformers must also focus on identifying trends that trigger the offenders and their psychological and financial state.
Poverty plays a significantly influential role when a person decides to commit a crime. People who are financially unstable tend to take the harsh route of committing crimes in order to gain money, which later becomes a habit by practice. Once labeled as criminals or prisoners, they become foes of the society, and this acts as another trigger for not being able to function properly or deviate from crimes. Juveniles engage in crimes for the same reasons, resorting to small offences during youth and getting brainwashed into committing bigger crimes for monetary gain.
These wrongdoers could be given a chance to contribute towards the society in more serviceable ways. Community service plays a key role in creating synergy between the offenders and the working class. Prisoners could be taught basic labour work which could result in having more labourers in the long-run and more human resources within prisons. A time-check could be implemented by local officers for assessing productivity. An alternative option could be the provision of decent jobs to prisoners after their sentence is over. A two-way beneficial scheme would increase employability while the offenders would stay undistracted and financially stable.
Juveniles could be provided with basic education which could help them branch into more vocational opportunities. According to the Law and Justice Commission of Pakistan Report 23 on jail reform, the jail manual suggests building libraries and giving primary education to all illiterate prisoners. However, none of this has ever been implemented. Donations, books and school supplies could be crowdsourced from the general public and a small school could be built at least for juvenile offenders who could later be enrolled in government schools under special programs once their sentence has been served.
Penal Reform International, in collaboration with UK Aid and DOST, issued a report in 2012 on the probation and parole system of Pakistan and provided detailed suggestions and reforms. However, none of them have been enacted to date and the issues remain unaddressed.
The parole system has been well observed in laws such as the Probation of Offenders Ordinance 1960, the West Pakistan Probation of Offenders Rules 1961, the Good Conduct Prisoners’ Probational Release Act 1926 and the Good Conduct Prisoners’ Probational Rules 1927. The clauses state how courts could grant probation to the deserving and how probation officers could keep checks. However, the process could be made less tedious and applied fully if the task could solely be handled by probation officers who could physically assess an inmate’s behavior and approve probation accordingly. The Ordinance also suggests rehabilitation services which again have never been observed. Such services must be allowed for all offences and be available to offenders of all genders and ages.
Our prison system needs to be more therapeutic and social rather than give rise to demeaning acts such as harassment, sexual abuse or increased crime rate. The system needs to identify the trend that could otherwise be stopped through the implementation of legal instruments and morally acceptable approaches. It would not only result in an opportunity to make the law more effective but also develop more skilled citizens who could benefit the society as a whole instead of harming it further.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of CourtingTheLaw.com or any other organization with which she might be associated.