October 16th, 2021
The Punjab government has recently come out with a plan of a Rs5.5billion package for prisons in the province. However, a proposal for revamping the 127-year-old jail laws has already been pending the cabinet’s approval for the last 11 months.
In his visit to the Kot Lakhpat prison in Lahore, Buzdar announced a slew of new facilities for jails across the province. These included the establishment of prison canteens, installation of fans, exhaust fans, geysers, LED lights and air coolers. Besides, prisoners would be able to watch news and entertainment channels on cable networks in the jails.
“We have decided to revamp the 127-year-old jail laws and prison rules to ensure the protection of human rights of prisoners,” Buzdar had told prisoners in his address. The government will be focusing on turning prisoners into productive citizens instead of being despised by society, he added. The chief minister also said poor and underage prisoners would be allowed to talk with their families on the prison phone and basic necessities, along with health services, would be given to women prisoners.
Speaking to Voicepk.net, Robina Shaheen, protection officer at Asma Jahangir Legal Aid Cell, welcomed the idea of provision of facilities to prisoners but added that the prison package lacked measures to reduce overcrowding in prisons. The provision of free and quality legal aid to prisoners by the government should be a top priority, she said.
Based on her 20 years of experience with vulnerable children and women inmates, she said the foremost thing for prisoners and the government would be to cut down the huge and unmanageable prison population in the province by releasing inmates on parole and condoning sentences for petty offenders, juveniles, the elderly and women.
“Many of the under trial and convicted juvenile and women prisoners should not even have been in prison in the first place,” says Shaheen. She says the primary reason such inmates remain incarcerated is that they are poor and uneducated and do not have access to proper legal representation in courts.
“State-provided counsel under the law to such vulnerable and poor prisoners is entirely inadequate as such counsels have no interest in keeping their clients out of jail due to lack of incentives and work burden,” Shaheen says.
In her view, juvenile girls are the most vulnerable of all inmates in prisons across Pakistan.
“Juvenile boys have separate facilities but juvenile girls if married are clubbed with older women prisoners in the jails,” she pointed out.
Meanwhile according to sources, the new rules of the prisons have fallen prey to bureaucratic delays within the Home Department and the Ministry of Prisons.
Fayyaz-ul- Hassan Chohan, Minister of Prisons, was contacted several times on call and text but did not respond as to when the new prison rules would be approved. A ministry spokesperson also declined to comment upon the delay in the approval of the proposed prison rules.
Aisha Nawaz, a PTI member of the Punjab assembly, said that a working group constituted on the directions of the Chief Minister had completed a proposed comprehensive revamp of Prisons Rules in November last year.
“Over 1,200 clauses were amended in the proposed Prison Rules 2020,” Nawaz told Voicepk.net. She said the revised rules were brought at par with international standards with the introduction of a computerised prison management information system (PMIS).
According to Nawaz, the proposed rules brought substantive improvements to improve the living conditions of prisoners. The pre-existing rules were revised to ensure the protection of vulnerable prisoners and streamline processes to benefit both prisoners and administration.
Female prisoners, including pregnant women, mothers, juveniles, mentally ill inmates, foreign prisoners and also transgenders, are being given special considerations under the proposed prison rules.
More importantly, the use of death-cells, solitary confinement, handcuffs, corporal punishment and invasive body searches of women and juveniles have been banned under Prison Rules 2020.
Justice Project Pakistan, which had worked with the working group in the formulation of the proposed Prison Rules 2020, welcomed the Chief Minister’s announcement.
“We congratulate the government for turning their attention towards prison reforms, a severely neglected area,” a JPP spokesperson told Voicepk.net.
However, the JPP called on the government to expedite the implementation of the revised prison rules.
“For long term and sustainable reform, the implementation of the revised prison rules drafted by the working group is imperative,” said the JPP spokesperson said. “These revised rules were drafted after taking into account input from all relevant stakeholders including the Chief Minister, civil society members etc. Another crucial piece of legislation, the Probation Ordinance must also be implemented so that deserving prisoners such as the elderly or infirm can be released,” the spokesperson added.