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‘Overcrowding in prisons leading to growing radicalisation’

‘Overcrowding in prisons leading to growing radicalisation’

KARACHI: A study on most jails across Sindh has found that overcrowding in prisons is leading to growing radicalisation with hardened convicts and undertrial prisoners being kept in same barracks.

Titled ‘Sindh prisons: a review of the criminal justice system’, the study’s findings were released by an advocacy group, the Legal Aid Office, on Saturday at a seminar held at a hotel.

Based on the study of 18 of the two dozen prisons across Sindh, the research primarily deals with two aspects: the quality of life of undertrial prisoners (UTPs) in Sindh and the reforms to improve their condition. Prison population statistics show that in December 2014, there were around 20,000 prisoners against the total authorised capacity of 12,416 prisoners. Of them, 20 per cent comprised convicts whereas the remaining 80 per cent inmates were on judicial remand facing trial.

With a steady decline in the release of prisoners, this growing trend in prison population has been seen since 2012.

According to the law, prisoners need to be classified on the basis of age, gender, seriousness of the offence and mental factors among others, but the reality remains otherwise in the form of ‘misclassifying prisoners’.

“Separate prisoners are not there for different categories, we have only one central prison and one district prison in Karachi. Everyone is being placed in the same confinement,” admitted Sindh IG Prisons Nusrat Mangan while speaking at the seminar where the report was presented.

“The prison constables need to be trained so that they can monitor and prevent the development of radicalisation,” said Barrister Haya Emaan Zahid.

Chief Justice of the Sindh High Court Faisal Arab acknowledged the problem and highlighted the need to keep the first-time offenders separate from hardened criminals, for they could be easily influenced and ended up being involved in gang-related crimes. “The probability of being caught decreases the rate of crime, and to achieve that the police system needs to be depoliticised,” said CJ Arab.

During the research, UTPs were asked whether any money was demanded at the time of arrest and whether force was used to which 84 per cent replied in the affirmative while 25 individuals claimed to have paid bribes ranging from Rs10,000 to Rs500,000 to the police.

On the question of the kind of force used by the police, one of the most popular answers was that the police verbally threatened them to charge them under false claims. When the investigation officers were asked the same question, only 14 per cent actually admitted to do that while the rest denied any such involvement.

However, the study indicated, 62 per cent judges agreed that prisoners were in reality subjected to cruel punishments during remand.

“The contradiction in the responses given by the undertrial prisoners and the police can be found throughout the report,” said Barrister Aiyan Bhutta while sharing the key findings of the study with the audience.

The concern regarding delayed justice was also looked into the research which sought to find the main reason behind it, according to the interviews conducted; prisoners cited the main reason to be non-production of witnesses.

According to the study, 67 per cent UTPs stated that the courts didn’t take any interest in expediting their case proceedings. It was also found that 39 per cent of the prisoners said they were not produced in court, and the proceedings were held in their absence.

Fundamental flaws in the arrest and detention procedure were highlighted in the report. The law states that a detainee needs to be produced before a magistrate within 24 hours of arrest, but 82 per cent of the UTPs claimed they had been detained for more than a day without being produced before a magistrate.

It was also pointed out that only 11 prisons had been developed since Pakistan came into being and they didn’t fulfil the contemporary need. However, on a positive note, IG Mangan said they had embarked upon an ambitious five-year programme where new prison facilities were being constructed. “The prison facility in Mirpurkhas is almost complete that will be able to cater to 1,000 prisoners. Additional prison facilities in Nawabshah and Thatta are also under construction, whereas the construction of prisons in Umerkot, Mithi and Jamshoro districts have been proposed,” said Mr Mangan.

Published in Dawn, May 10th, 2015

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