Reforming prisons

BUREAUCRATIC hurdles are apparently holding up the release of federal funds meant for security upgrades of Sindh`s jails. According to a report in this paper the province`s inspector-general of prisons has said that the centre has not cleared the release of a grant allocated for the installation of cellphone-jamming systems as well as other security needs in Sindh`s jails.

This disclosure has once again brought into the spotlight the urgent need for reform of the country`s jails as well as the official lethargy that is blocking the process of reform. Pakistan`s prison system suffers myriad problems, including overcrowding and the torture or abuse of inmates. Thus officialdom`s sluggishness in implementing the reform process defies logic. Calls for prison reform have come from some of the country`s highest offices, including those of the prime minister and the chief justice. Overcrowding remains a chronic problem: as Sindh`s IG pri-sons pointed out, the province`s jails contain more inmates then they have the capacity to hold.

Prison reform must be put in context with some of the major problems confronting Pakistan such as terrorism and a high crime rate. A definite need exists to separate violent criminals and suspects as well as convicted terrorists from those serving time for petty crimes. There is strong evidence that suggests that prisoners can become hardened criminals or be radicalised if abused in prison or if they are exposed to violent criminals or extremists. Of course prison reform is a multi-pronged process. Apart from improving living conditions the investigation and trial processes need to be overhauled so that suspects do not languish in jail indefinitely. There must also be zero tolerance for abuse and torture within prisons. Those inmates who are not violent criminals or convicted terrorists need to be given a fair chance at rehabilitation so that they can become productive members of society.

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