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May 14, 2018

Prison report


May 14, 2018

The dire situation of Pakistan’s prisons has come to light once again in a report prepared by the National Counter Terrorism Authority (Nacta). While the basic fact that the country’s prisons are home to 57 percent more prisoners than their capacity is worrying, the most shocking figure is that two-thirds of Pakistan’s prison population has not been convicted of any crime. These individuals are merely awaiting or undergoing trial. This figure is a damning conviction of our dysfunctional justice system. Two out of three prisoners in the country are not convicts. This means that the Nacta report needs to go beyond proposing improvements to living situation of inmates, and propose major reforms in the justice system. The global average for non-convicted individuals serving time in jail is 27 percent. What would be useful is to see another key statistic: how many years have non-convicts spent in jail? In itself, the fact that someone can be kept in jail for decades without conviction should involve criminal and civil liability. Unfortunately, it seems that in Pakistan no one cares for such prisoners.

With such a glaring tragedy ongoing in Pakistan’s prisons, it is no wonder that the living conditions for inmates and prison staff are deplorable. The report has asked for urgent action in the eight most overcrowded prisons. The prisons have an occupancy rate of 3 to 5 times more than capacity. This means that prisoners are being treated worse than farm animals. The report recommends ventilating the prisoners and providing 10-15 litres of water per prisoner each day in addition to balanced diets, toilet access, access to open air and medical care. In the longer term, the report recommends socio-economic support for those who leave the prison system. What is strange is that the secretary of the Law and Justice Commission has said that there are no pending criminal cases in the Supreme Court’s Karachi and Quetta registries, a rather irrelevant detail in the face of such glaring numbers. The real point he made was that judges are expected to hear 200 cases per day. This is certainly a case of a criminal justice system that is failing at each of its nodes. The real case to be made is for reform of the overall judicial and penal system. But it is also important to improve the conditions in which prisoners find themselves. This should be a priority.

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