December 22nd, 2020
By Ahmad Saeed
A report released by the Federal Ministry of Human Rights has revealed that many inmates in Pakistan’s jails are at risk of contracting the coronavirus due to their advanced age and underlying health conditions.
The report is prepared in collaboration with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and it states that prisons across Pakistan have been overcrowded by 134%.
There are currently 77,725 inmates in all of the country’s prisons, while legally only 57,742 can be held there.
The most perilous situation in this regard is in the jails of Punjab province where there are about 54,000 inmates in 43 jails while the capacity is only 36,000 inmates.
According to the report, most of the people in custody are under trial prisoners while only a few thousand people have been convicted by the court.
The whole situation is considered extremely worrying given the Corona epidemic. The report cites a study by Johns Hopkins University, which finds that inmates in prisons were 5.5 times more likely to be infected with the coronavirus and 3.5 times more likely to die of it.
The Islamabad High Court in March ordered the release of all under-trial prisoners due to fears of the spread of coronavirus in jails, but the Supreme Court later quashed the order and issued its directions for the release of the prisoners.
According to the report, there are 193 posts of medical officers in Pakistan’s jails but 108 of them are vacant and this shortage of doctors and inadequate medical facilities make the situation more dangerous.
There are currently about 1,500 inmates in Pakistan’s jails, including 46 women, over the age of 60, which could make the situation worse for them.
Rubina Shaheen, who is a Women Protection Officer in Asma Jahangir Legal Aid Cell and has been visiting various jails in Punjab for 26 years, says conditions in Punjab’s jails are improving but the situation is still unsatisfactory.
She further said that most of the jails in Punjab have lady doctors and psychologists and if required, the inmates can also be shifted to the hospital in the jail. However, she said that due to the growing population of the jails, it is not possible to meet the needs of the prisoners as the government provides the goods and infrastructure for the inmates according to the sanctioned strength.
She believes that to improve the condition of prisons, it is necessary to eliminate overcrowding the rush from prisons because, without it, any reform would be meaningless.
The report also provided some suggestions to the Government of Pakistan to improve the conditions of prisons and in particular the provision of medical facilities.
- The government should immediately recruit medical officers and staff for the 108 vacancies and maintain the medical records of the prisoners in an appropriate manner.
- Six hundred of the inmates in the jails are suffering from mental illness. Necessary facilities should be provided for the mental health treatment of such persons.
- The health of pregnant women should be taken care of and the principles of hygiene for childbirth should be ensured.
- Take steps to reduce the rush in prisons and keep new arrivals in quarantine for fourteen days.