The temporary release of Mian Nawaz Sharif to allow him to attend his wife’s funeral has drawn attention to the important issue of release on parole and probation
The recent release of former prime minister Mian Nawaz Sharif, his daughter and son-in-law on temporary parole to attend the funeral of late Kulsoom Nawaz has created a general interest among people regarding this idea. For many, it was totally new information that prison inmates could win a release for 12 hours to attend the funeral under the existing prison rules.
To avail this facility, Sharifs had to submit a request to the provincial government which could approve it and also extend it according to the circumstances involved. The chief executive of the province has the authority to extend this duration which he practised in this case. All three of them were required to stay within the prescribed premises during this period under the watch of police guard deputed for this purpose. The family house of Sharif family in Jati Umra, Raiwind Road, Lahore, was also declared sub-jail.
There are other examples as well where high-profile prisoners were allowed to attend the funerals of their dear ones. For example former prime minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani, who was in Adiala Jail in 2004, was allowed to participate in funerals of his sister and mother in different months of the same year. Similarly, former president Asif Ali Zardari who was arrested in 1996 was released on temporary parole to visit his mother Bilqees Begum on death-bed and perform her last rituals.
Though this phenomenon is being widely referred to as release on parole, it is in fact temporary reprieve given in cases of emergency to prisoners. On the other hand, parole in its true sense is conditional release of a convicted prisoner, who has completed a major part of his sentence, on fulfillment of certain conditions including exhibition of good behaviour in the prison. These prisoners spend their remaining sentence outside the prison and have to stick to certain conditions. However, the practice of letting prisoners go out for a limited period in cases of emergency can be best termed release on temporary parole.
The parolees are cleared according to a criteria under which their antecedents are examined closely by the concerned officers who focus particularly on their suitability to reintegrate in the society. Once approved, parole is managed by provincial Directorates of Reclamation and Probation that work under the respective home departments and keep in touch with the parolees.
If we look at the rationale behind parole laws and rules, we find these were devised primarily to help bring positive transformation in the lives of prisoners who had a tendency to mend their ways and re-integrate them in the society. In the context of countries like Pakistan, an added objective is to reduce the load of prisoners in overcrowded jails of the country and cut down the expenses the state has to make on them.
Ideally, this option should be availed on a larger scale but it is not. This issue was taken up by the Supreme Court of Pakistan (SCP) two years back when it asked the provinces as to why they were reluctant to extend this facility to the prisoners.
Asad Jamal, a lawyer and a human rights activist, thinks the executive that manages the parole system is using it very restrictively. He says the main concern while granting parole is that the parolee should not run away or repeat a crime. "If these concerns are taken care of, the authorities should go for this option extensively."
He adds the option of sending convicts involved in minor crimes and first-timers on probation is availed at a much larger scale than parole. "The difference between the two is that probation is allowed in exchange of sentence by the court while parole is granted to prisoners who have spent a major part of their sentence in the prison."
Jamal believes incompetency and corruption in the ranks of law enforcing authorities are the main reason why such non-custodial sanctions are not put in place. "There is always a fear they will be unable to track those who disappear or repeat offences," he adds.
Jamal’s assertions are supported by a Law and Justice Commission Report shared in 2016. It states that from 2013 to August 2016 trial courts have released 80,116 offenders placed on probation in Punjab, 2060 in Sindh, 4,278 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and 194 in Balochistan. During the same period, the number of convicts released on parole in Punjab was just 527, 18 in KP, seven in Sindh and 41 in Balochistan. These numbers are insignificant if we look at the number of prison inmates in the country.
A report by the federal ombudsman office in the Supreme Court in May this year mentions there are 78,160 prisoners in 98 prisons of the country whereas the total sanctioned strength of these jails is 56,353. In Punjab, 48,760 prisoners are detained in 41 jails having a capacity to accommodate 33,235, in Sindh 18,420 in 25 jails with capacity of 12,413, in KP 10,358 prisoners in 21 jails against a sanctioned strength of 8,395 and in Balochistan, 2,158 in 11 prisons with a capacity of 2,585. This means only Balochistan jails have prisoners less than the total capacity.
Arthur Wilson, a rights activist who has worked extensively with prison department, says that temporary parole is not as easily extended as it was in the case of Nawaz Sharif. He shares cases in which he got two prisoners released on temporary parole to attend funerals after a lot of struggle. "Both of them were carried in police truck handcuffed all the time and brought back once they had had a look at the face of the deceased. In another case involving a death row prisoner Aftab Bahadur, dead body of his mother was taken inside the jail before burial," he adds. He says the condemned prisoner was not allowed to come out of the jail in parole.
Parolees are released under the concerned clauses of the Good Conduct Prisoners’ Probational Release Act 1926. They are put under the supervision of a suitable person (ideally a parole officer) who is nominated in the license and is willing to supervise the prisoner in his respective province. Parolees are employed with approved employers who should be residents of the same province but a minimum of 45 miles away from their immediate relatives. Under the relevant law, the parolees can meet their families occasionally but not before the completion of first six months of the parole period.
Khawaja Khalid Farooq, former IG Prisons, Punjab, says, "Though these non-custodial measures can be instrumental in releasing pressures on overcrowded jails and prisoners’ reform process, the authorities do not take risk.
"Only the influential have been able to benefit from this option while many deserving could not qualify for this relief". He supports release on bail on grounds that hardly anybody nearing completion of his prison term would spoil his case by showing unwanted behaviour during parole.