After the bloodied partition of United India, two new countries emerged on the surface of the earth, namely Pakistan and India. As with various laws and systems, India and Pakistan inherited the same prison system from the British as a colonial legacy. The system of prisons was designed to detain freedom fighters, and those who voiced their views against 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 the 17th. century, it was characterized by 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 Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s report, ‘State of Human Rights in 2014’. This provides detailed information about the current situation of the violent and notorious jails in Pakistan. The report also encapsulates information and extensive research work as well as facts and figures relating to human rights along with the overall view of the state of human rights in 2014 in Pakistan. The chapter dealing with jails of Pakistan is interesting as it provides that prisoners in different prisons of Pakistan faced a number of chronic issues. These include for instance food, hygiene, sexual harassment, lack of a health care system, rampant torture, and overcrowding that had been encountered by prisoners in 2014.
It is right to say that reforming prison rules have never been seriously contemplated by any government as the mentioned issues date long back in the history of Pakistan. The Constitution of Pakistan contains a number of Articles that have special significance for prison administration, particularly regarding the treatment of prisoners. In the United Nations Office On Drugs And Crime (UNODC) report, 800 or so female prisoners were facing harassment and lack of a proper health care system in different jails of Pakistan in 2014. The
female prisoners in jails in the year 2014 had faced sexual harassment and sexual violence at the hands of the wardens. The report of the UNODC states that there were no gynaecologists available on call to attend to female prisoners in the jails of Pakistan. The report further says female prisoners were found in critical conditions. For instance, most female prisoners were suffering from sleep disorder, dominance of suicidal depression, and other types of mental imbalance.
The report further goes on to provide that the government of Punjab in February, 2014 released 1 billion to the 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 the living conditions of inmates, for instance, for the purposes of medical care systems, food hygiene, building new barracks, improving security inside jails, etc. Till then 6,099 million had been spent on those mentioned issues. For the 2013-2014 financial year, Rs 819 million were spent out of 1.09
billion to address issues faced by the prisoners. However, 271 million was sent to the government by the prison department as unspent.
The prison authorities miserably failed to spend the full allocation on jails in order to improve the living standards as well as address the issues of prisoners. In the prisons across Pakistan except for Gilgit-Balistan, the population of inmates exceeded the sanctioned capacity. The noteworthy point which has been highlighted in the report is that in Punjab, the excess was about 130%.
Last year, a lawyer filed a writ petition in the Lahore High Court concerning overcrowded jails across Punjab. The Deputy Inspector General in response on the 15th. of November 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 completed with fully equipped facilities and staff for them also recruited. The court demanded the release of details of another 11 new jails from the DIG. To date, none of these jails had become functioning at all.
The announcement of the 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 Prison Minister on the floor of the Punjab Assembly said mobile jammers had been installed in 14 jails of Punjab and serious efforts to install jammers in the rest of the jails at the end of financial year of 2014 were being made. Moreover, family rooms had been constructed in Multan and Faislabad jails in 2014.
Overpulation, unhygienic food, sexual harassment and violence and unsatisfactory medical care systems are ever lasting issues of prisoners across Pakistan. In 2014, the Prison Minister noted that there were 80 HIV, and 30 Aids affected prisoners across Punjab. Furthermore, he said the standard of food within jails had been improved as the per head cost of food had increased to 80.9 rupees. However, the report published by HRCP highlighted that in 2013 and 2014, the situation of prisoners across Punjab was horrible and unsatisfactory and failed to see improvement in food quality. The efforts of the government had no effect on prisoners across Punjab. 17 prisoners in the District Jail, Swat in the month of October last year faded due to unhygienic food. Two officers on duty were held liable and suspended as a result.
In culmination, I submit that there is an urgent need to bring forward a reform policy for prisons across Punjab. I personally believe that there is no sign of improvement in the near future. The government of Punjab seriously has to take note of living standards of prisoners who are detained in different jails of Punjab. The food quality, over population and proper and satisfactory medical care systems in jails should be contemplated while considering a reform policy for jails.
I further contend there is a need to provide free legal aid to those who are detained because of minor offences that they can be released without spending much time incarcerated. Hardened criminals should be segregated from those prisoners who have committed minor offences and/or by mistake committed an offence.
The offences of sexual violence and sexual harassment on women by wardens should also be a part of the reform policy. Women prisoners and juveniles should be given rehabilitation classes in jails so that they turn up as reasonable and responsible citizens of Pakistan when released.
Finally, I contend that Pakistan should rid itself of medieval styles of punishment and introduce non-penal social engineering. The concept of jails in the modern century seems to be inhumane and volatile. I request to the DIG to seriously take up the matter of reforming the prison system across Pakistan instead of producing mere statements.
Sarmad Ali is an advocate of the High Court. He can be reached at email@example.com