Out of the 11,362 inmates of 38 jails in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, 8,984 are under-trial prisoners, says a report of the provincial home department. The government has not constructed any new prison for the past many years, though the existing 38 jails in the province are insufficient to hold prisoners. In Central Jail Peshawar, hundreds of prisoners are lodged in one barrack against the capacity to accommodate hardly 20 inmates even in the time of coronavirus. This indicates crowded conditions in most prisons.
Needless to mention the prisons lack proper health facilities. Also, the authorities have failed to raise awareness of inmates about hygiene. All this is telling upon the health of prisoners. Herding many prisoners in barracks far beyond their capacity betrays indifference on the part of officials towards prisoners. The lingering coronavirus pandemic has added to the troubles of prisoners, especially of those whose cases are pending in courts, because court proceedings had been stopped. Even those whose cases have been decided are awaiting release. This too has resulted in increasing the number of inmates.
Concerned quarters rightly believe that crowded conditions, lack of healthcare facilities and other essential services show that prisoners are being deprived of their due rights. The provincial government says jail reforms are underway and efforts are being made to improve conditions in prisons. New recruitments have been made to strengthen the prison staff. The government claims that proper medical facilities are being provided in all jails in the province. While it plans to build a special jail to lodge only terrorists, it is silent on whether new jails will be constructed to ease congestion in the existing facilities and whether these constructions are part of the jail reforms.
Why is the administration in such a hurry to send even those under trial to prison? Under-trial prisoners languish for years in jails before they are released. If they are proven innocent, they have to be content with regaining their freedom. There is no compensation.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 8th, 2021.