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July 15, 2016

‘Overcrowded jails, inept police and untrained magistrates failing criminal justice system’


July 15, 2016

Institutional flaws and realistic solutions discussed at CPLC conference 


First-time offenders and petty criminals, such as traffic violators, are kept along Taliban militants and other hardcore terrorists in some prisons in Sindh, which has only 25 prisons – all filled beyond their capacity. The jails have space for around 12,000 inmates, but over 20,000 have been lodged there.

The Karachi central prison can hardly accommodate 2,400 inmates but around 6,500 prisoners have been crammed into the facility, with both terrorists and petty criminals serving time together. This is resulting in the spread of radicalisation and terrorism due to the influence of terrorists on petty criminals, instead of reforming such offenders. 

Compounding the problem is the reality that around 80 percent of the inmates are under-trial prisoners (UTPs) and only 20 percent are convicts.

“In Thailand, the situation is the other way round. Around 80 percent of prisoners are convicted criminals while only 20 percent are under-trial prisoners,” said Sindh IG Prisons Nusrat Mangan while speaking at a conference held at the CPLC office at the Governor House on Thursday.

The IG prison was deeply concerned about the lack of capacity in the jails, saying that overcrowding was exposing petty criminals to an environment which could radicalise them due to the presence of militants and terrorists there.

He also regretted a lack of facilities at the prisons, an issue which was affecting the mental condition of inmates.

However, he told the audience about some of the initiatives taken by the authorities with the help of NGOs to improve the jail conditions and introduce constructive activities for the prisoners.

Taking pride in a fine art school set up at the Karachi central jail, he said a teacher was training prisoners to help them become useful citizens. He further said that around 50 exhibitions of artwork produced by artists in the prison had been held in different art galleries.

“At the time of independence, we inherited five prisons from the British rule in Sindh. They could be increased to only 25 despite the Supreme Court’s order for establishing a prison in every district.”

The police official was speaking during a session about prison reforms at the one-day conference arranged by the CPLC.

Speaking in the session, Aurat Foundation’s Karachi Resident Director Mehnaz Rehman lamented over the fact that the recommendations presented in different reports about prison reforms were almost same made several times from 1997 to 2016.

“It simply means that the recommendations presented in 1997 were never implemented; therefore, the same proposals are submitted every year,” she said.

“Since there had been no implementation of the oft-presented recommendations, there’s no point in submitting new ones at this forum.”

Social activist Haya Zahid spoke about a survey of prisons and written tests of police constables.

“Constables are more taught about the four types of salutes, parade and march rather than how to help prisoners and care for their rehabilitation.”

Through written tests, she added, it was observed that most of the constables were not literate enough to be any good for the inmates. “Unless a proper share of the budget is allocated for prison reforms and the management system is improved, it’s practically impossible to improve the situation.”


Criminal justice system

Addressing a session on the criminal justice system, Justice (retd) Rehmat Hussain Jaffery talked in detail about the components of the judicial system and the immediate reforms it required.

He was highly critical of magistrates for not exercising their powers to expedite the investigation process and save accused from any misconduct of police. He, however, lamented the lack of knowledge in people about their basic legal rights.

“After the registration of an FIR, police are supposed to complete preliminary investigations as soon as possible and produce the accused before the magistrate within 24 hours.”

Discussing about police diaries, he said that it was a common practice on the part of police officials to not enter the time of the entry of the suspect in the police station.

He said that though a magistrate could ask the police to tell him every minute detail since the arrest of the suspect, many of the magistrates did not bother about checking police diaries or about the time when the suspect was brought to the lock-up.

The former judge concluded that more than reforms in law, reforms in the practices of magistrates were required.

He also said police were also not well-trained in “appreciating evidences” and preparing witnessed for properly recording their statement in the court.

Recalling his posting in Hyderabad, the ex-judge said that police officials did not cooperate initially in producing witnesses in the court. But when he started summoning SHOs, SP and DSP, the police department all of a sudden became efficient, started producing witnesses in the court, and requested him to stop sending more notices.

He said that due to a poor witness protection system and presentation of weak evidences, there was a low rate of convictions in the courts. 

But for lawyer Faisal Siddiqui, an immediate viable solution is to separately deal with convictions and sentencing.

He opined that short sentencing should be introduced for criminals who confessed their offences before joint investigation teams, but due to weak evidence they were not giving any punishment.

To establish his argument, he said that around 80 percent of the accused were acquitted by the courts due to the presentation of weak evidence.

“We should keep in mind that it’s not an ideal society; it’s almost a broken one. A first class judicial system is not possible in a third class state.”

He said the debate on the justice system was oscillating between two groups in Pakistan. For him, one is the fantasy world of right activists and the second is the brutal world of state reality.

Citing the Karachi operation as an example, he said right activists shout against extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances allegedly by law enforcers, but they did not realise that the city direly needed a brutal operation without any discrimination to get its peace restored.

He said that right activists would have to understand that the existence of state was required to protect the rights of citizens as the terror of society was countered by the terror of state.

HRCP Chairperson Zohra Yousf said, “I come from the fantasy world of human rights but I would speak about the harsh realities in our society.”

She said that people accused of blasphemy, women, juveniles and victims of honour killings were the vulnerable sections of society and a number of judicial reforms were required to protect their rights by the state.

She said the Punjab government had taken over the Sindh government in passing legislations to protect vulnerable sections of society in the recent time.

Piler Chairman Karamat Ali, while talking in a session about rights and duties of citizens, said that there was no definition of citizen in the constitution and it was therefore very difficult to ascertain what a Pakistani citizen should do when he was not given his basic rights by the state. “The constitution says a citizen should be loyal to the state, but it does not say it anywhere that the state should also be loyal to the citizen in providing his basic rights.”

He added that Pakistan had adopted its law from the British rule, and there was a lot of confusion between “laws for subjects and laws for citizens.”

Former IGPs Saud Mirza and Shoaib Suddle, Sindh police chief A D Khowaja, lawyers, journalists and intelligentsia were present in the conference.

At the end of the event, CPLC chief Zubair Habib thanked the participants and tried to answer some tough questions thrown by journalists. 

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