Federal Ombudsman’s report on jails
The Federal Ombudsman’s report to the Supreme Court, that 77,275 inmates are currently languishing in 114 prisons in the country against a sanctioned capacity of 57,742, highlights the need for jail reforms and efforts to curtail crimes. The report also highlights the plight of juvenile prisoners. Jails house 1,248 juvenile inmates as well as 25,456 convicted and 48,008 under-trial prisoners. Punjab leads with 47,077 prisoners and 42 jails (where the sanctioned strength is 32,477), followed by Sindh where there are 24 jails with 17,239 inmates against the sanctioned strength of 13,038. The same situation is in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where 10,871 prisoners are being kept in 37 prisons, slightly above the sanctioned number of 9,642. Only Balochistan is housing prisoners as per its capacity: 2,088 inmates in 11 jails which can house 2,585 prisoners. As per the report, there are 1,204 women prisoners across the country.
These overcrowded jails are a big challenge to the prison staff. A majority of them are not capable of handling and reforming criminals. A big number of prisoners means huge monthly amounts for warders, which they receive from inmates in exchange for small favours. Moreover, jails are already understaffed and resource-starved. In such circumstances, warders’ tendency for torture and punishment, an outdated concept of the 17th century, goes unchecked. No serious effort has ever been made to end these cruelties. In the modern world, the concept of jails as reforming place is growing. Jails provide a chance for criminals to rehabilitate themselves by learning new skills and becoming good citizens once they are out. They are provided with skilled masters, psychologists and psychiatrists. For the lack such facilities, we have seen petty criminals converting into hardened criminals, and hardened criminals enjoying their jail time as a recreational time-out.
The ombudsperson’s report also suggests reforms to improve conditions in jails. It recommends that the interior ministry and provincial home departments appoint senior officers to undertake surprise visits to jails. The report suggests establishment of jails in every district, with independent portions for women and juvenile prisoners. The report recommends a biometric system for maintaining the records of prisoners and special spaces for prisoners suffering from mental problems and drug addiction. Similarly, those suffering from contagious diseases should also be segregated. These suggestions are wonderful on paper; but will they ever be implemented? We have seen several rounds of reforms, starting in 1950s. Recently, Sindh took a landmark measures to legislate jail reforms. It is time to move on to the implementation mode. *