The official capacity of prisons in Pakistan is 53,000 but there are nearly 87,000 prisoners
When Shaukat, a resident of Karachi was acquitted in 2017, he had already spent 14 years in jail on a false murder charge. Shaukat and several other unfortunate prisoners have to spend years behind bars because of lack of evidence and/or weak investigation and long suffer due to dawdling judicial process.
Accused such as Shaukat are among thousands overcrowding Pakistan’s prisons and living in deplorable conditions with inadequate supply of food, water, sanitation, and are vulnerable to fatal diseases.
The miserable plight of Pakistani prisoners was highlighted in a report which claims that Pakistan’s prisons house 57 per cent more prisoners than their authorised capacity and two thirds of the total prison population is either awaiting or undergoing trial as of October 1, 2017, as compared to 27 per cent at the international level.
The report, titled Addressing Overcrowding in Prisons by Reducing Pre-Conviction Detention in Pakistan and prepared by the National Counter Terrorism Authority (Nacta), International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Cursor Development and Education (Code) Pakistan, noted that overcrowding situation often results in lack of basic rights, creating physical and mental problems for prisoners.
The report is based on a year-long survey covering all regions, Sindh, Punjab, Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), Gilgit Baltistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK).
Talking to Gulf News, Mohsin Ali Turk, lead author of the report and a former judge from KP, said “the total official capacity of prisons in Pakistan is 53,000 but there are nearly 87,000 prisoners, out of which approximately 1,000 are women.”
This overcrowding is causing problems such as transmittable diseases (TB, Hepatitis C, HIV), sanitation issues, food scarcity, increased violence, he said.
“We recommend screening and regular health check-ups of all prisoners on immediate basis to prevent the risk of diseases spreading” he said. The second important measure, according to the report, is digital profiling of prisoners which is necessary to keep records as law indicates that “if a person commits an offence for the second time, he would face enhanced punishment.”
Some of the reasons for overcapacity identified in the report are overuse of arrest and detention in criminal justice policies, investigative shortcomings, delays in fine submission, resource constraints of the criminal justice institutions, limited access to legal counsel and judicial delays caused by frequent adjournments of trials.
Criminal justice system of Pakistan should be enhanced with better coordination among different stakeholders such as prosecution, judiciary, police and lawyers. Modern investigative techniques should also be introduced, the report suggests. One of the crucial measures, advocated by the report, is the introduction of correctional education and vocational training for prisoners. “This would not only offer a productive time in prison but also help them re-integrate in society once they leave the prison as the process of social integration with family, and community is very tough” stressed Mohsin Ali Turk.
Mudassar Javed, Director at SHARP (Society for Human Rights and Prisoners’ Aid), told Gulf News the major reason of overcrowding in Pakistani prisons is that people are wrongly convicted of domestic disputes such as land, property or family issues, which not only ruin the lives of the innocent but consume resources and valuable time of the courts.
“The high pre-conviction detention rates also leads to overcrowding in prisons which should be addressed.”
He suggested that Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) which refers to settling disputes outside the court can be helpful in expediting delivery of justice and can reduce the burden on courts.
Law and Justice Commission of Pakistan Secretary Dr Mohammad Raheem Awan said the commission was compiling data on prisons and efforts were being made to decide cases under alternate dispute resolution.
Nacta Coordinator Ihsan Gani Khan said that it was disastrous that people spend decades in prison before they are convicted or proven innocent. “Around 66 per cent of prisoners are in jail without conviction, as compared to the international rate of 27 per cent” he said, assuring that Nacta would implement the recommendations of the report.