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January 31, 2017

The incident of Nasirabad jail in Quetta, where prisoners went on a strike against substandard food and inadequate facilities, depicts the inhuman treatment being meted out to inmates in Pakistani jails. In most parts of the country, jails are overcrowded where inmates are not being provided with necessary facilities, permissible to them under the constitution of Pakistan. The objective to turn the jails into correction houses could not be achieved with the present living conditions for which effective measures are need of hour.

Media reports have often shed some light on the condition of jails in the country. The information is disturbing in most cases and calls for immediate reform of the prisons departments in all provinces. First, due to the imprisonment of a large number of offenders, it becomes difficult for the jail authorities to keep different categories of inmates in separate blocks and cells. The hazards of doing that should be obvious to anyone. Overcrowding and poor sanitary conditions result in contagious diseases like hepatitis and scabies. Inmates in prisons across the country continue to live in poor hygienic conditions and contract such illnesses. Second, a large number of prisoners remain in jail due to their inability to pay for bail bonds. Many of them cannot afford legal fees and continue to languish in jails while waiting for their trials that linger on for months and years due to non-availability of services of competent lawyers. Because of overcrowding and the general attitude of jail authorities, there is barely any distinction between under-trial and convicted prisoners. Third, our jails do not offer any rehabilitation or reformative atmosphere for those criminals who need small doses of guidance for their character building. Instead of providing a congenial atmosphere, jails act as training centres for first-time offenders to commit bigger crimes and create a law and order situation in society.

No decent society can lock people up and then forget about them. Overcrowding, unhygienic food, violence and unsatisfactory medical care are the unending issues of prisoners across Pakistan. There is an urgent need to develop a reform policy for prisons across the country. The government has to seriously take note of the living standards of prisoners in jails. The food quality, overcrowding and a proper and satisfactory medical care system in jails should be established while considering a reform policy for jails. There is a need to providing free legal aid to those who are detained because of minor offences so that they are released in a timely fashion. Women prisoners and juveniles should receive rehabilitation classes in jails, so that they become responsible citizens of Pakistan when released. *


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