Pathetic state of affairs

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The Pakistan Prison rules are as old as dating back to 1978, with no substantial and structural changes made for decades. It seems that prisons conditions have never been the subject of debate in our country. The Human rights bodies and some NGOs do make hue and cry over the overcrowding of Pak prisons, but the government is deep in slumber and successive governments have failed to redress the issue. Though jails in Pakistan have often been overcrowded but the recent report has shown alarming rise in number of jail inmates and shows that Pakistani prisons house 57 per cent more prisoners than their authorized capacity and two-thirds of the total prison population is either awaiting or undergoing trial as compared to 27 per cent at the international level.

The exhausted report, conducted in recent years by the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA), International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Cursor Development and Education (CODE) Pakistan, revealed that  ‘overcrowding in prisons often results in deplorable living conditions for inmates and prison staff, spread of disease and other problems and issues’. As a matter of fact, the existing condition of prisons across the country is a reflection on how indifferent we are to the wellbeing of our people. It is a grave human rights violations as inmates of jails are entitled to basic needs within premises of jails but the mindset of our society is to make them live like animals as we do not have regard for human rights. The report titled ‘Addressing Overcrowding in Prisons by Reducing Pre-Conviction Detention in Pakistan’ has shed light on some of the real issues of prisoners like the  pathetic conditions that prisoners are faced with, including lack of even open air to inhale and potable water and food.

The fact that our prisons have become breeding grounds for diseases is due to lack of the medical care which is neglectful together with no attention being paid to hygiene. We often hear of Hepatitis C and HIV patients and their rising number in jails that is due to the culture of neglect in prisons which spread the fatal diseases and puts the inmates at  risk of catching them. Human Rights activists suggest that the Law and Justice Commission of Pakistan and other concerned departments and authorities should work collectively for the cause of prisoners. As reported, around seventy per cent of those in prisons are awaiting fair trial, but that is taking years and years as we are far from a system which ensures fars delivery of justice to accused persons.] Trials move at snail’s pace in courts due to which the proceedings are prolong and sometime the justice is served when inmates have left the world.

The ultimate and seemingly viable solutions lie in overall overhaul of the judicial system which is devoid of fast proceedings and which lacks checks and balances. In fact, some of the findings of the exhausted report pertaining to poor access to basic needs like toilets within premises of Jails sound similar to other infrastructure like schools all over the country. The irony of the situation is that the justice discourse in our society has more often than not moves in a pattern of inhumane circle which emphasizes on “guilty until proven innocent” for decades. On the other hand, our judicial system is marked by flaws and it most of the time fails in collecting facts and deciding on that basis. All these issues result in a comprehensive plight and ordeal of the jail inmates.

And there is one more aspect is pertaining to the societal attitude. Our Jail inmates are disadvantaged not only due lack of legal procedures but also due to the societal attitude as our people look down upon a person once he is blamed for something. They do not wait for the outcome of court decisions and due to societal hatred even innocent accused are made to turn into hardened criminals.

Speedy delivery of justice should be adopted whether it is through better training of human resource, improved accountability of those who commit corruption in the system or more purveyors of justice. Greater and aimful awareness of existing laws and can definitely help alleviate the strain on resources which can then be used for reforming the prisons.  Time and again we hear that in 1777, reputed man John Howard came up with a book on the state of prisons in England. It is said that he along with other things had also strongly recommended that prisons “be healthy and disease free.”  And see what happened. Yes, over a hundred years later, most of his recommendations aimed at reforms became a reality.

Then we come across another reformer namely Elizabeth Fry who in 1817 campaigned for a school to be established within premises of prisons so that under age inmates can be incarcerated.

Meanwhile, a man who spent 15 years in jail in pathetic conditions while narrating his ordeal described Pak prisons as torture cells where horror prevails. He was prisoned in in Swabi which has capacity of 125 inmates but which houses more than six hundred inmates right now.  The inmates  are suffering continuously  as a result of overcrowding. Just imagine there are one dozen prisoners with HIV/AIDS while over a fifty inmates are suffering from Hepatitis A, B or C, of these C is a real fatal disease and is termed as silent killer.  Then there is the central jail in Peshawar which is housing 5,000 inmates, several times higher than it real capacity.

Moreover, women prisoners are kept in prisons with their little one – who are innocent but there is no facility for educating these young ones or care for their other needs including hygiene.  Medical facilities are almost missing and seemingly non-existent at all, Men and women are kept like animals in conditions that do nothing to reform or improve them and contribute to a growth in criminality as well as the spread of disease. A century ago such conditions also existed in England prisons but they reformed their system. Some of the inmates are professional criminals and these hardened criminals are never be fit to be sent back in society again, but there are various other inmates who can be rehabilitated to the society through reform system and they can be made to  live useful and meticulous lives if they provided vocational skills in various fields of life. The statistics pertaining pathetic jails conditions are pouring in a record number and are set to register a further increase but even then those at the helm of affairs do not pay heed to the rotten system.

Meanwhile, health experts opine that if we want to prevent a critical health crisis in the country’s eight most overcrowded prisons – with  an overwhelming occupancy rate of whopping 300 per cent to 540 per cent up than official capacity – there should be an urgent prison assessment to ensure prisoners’ quarters are well equipped with basic needs so that our prisons are a sort of reform houses rather than criminal dens.

At least, the availability of basic needs like clothes, food, water and clean air be made available to inmates immediately and the rest of procedures should also be rectified slowly but steadily.