AlKhidmat Prisoners Welfare Program
Like the police and courts, the prison system is a also a major contact point between citizen and state, and conditions in prison determine to a large extent what sort of a person will leave the jail to go back and live in society. Modern social scientists agree that the fundamental role of a prison is not to punish a person for committing a crime, but to reform a criminal so that he, or she, can re-enter society and become a useful contributing member once again. Prisons, therefore, are supposed to be places where people can be reformed, but are they? Does modern society send people to prison to be reformed, or does it send the criminal to prison so that it can delude itself that everything is now alright, in accordance with the famous saying, ‘Out of sight, out of mind’. Do modern prisons reform people, or create hardened criminals? Sadly, the latter is far truer than the former throughout the world.
Prison Conditions In Pakistan
Countless people are in prison in Pakistan because petty crimes committed out of poverty, lack of education, or both. In fact poverty and education are closely linked when it comes to crime. People are poor because they are not educated enough to get higher paying jobs. They did not go to school because their parents could not afford to send them to school, and because their parents were forced to make their children work at an early age because they needed extra hands to make ends meet. One, therefore, finds Pakistani prisons overcrowded with people who are what you can call symptoms of a mismanaged society. People who had no intention of committing a crime but end up landing in prison because, out of ignorance and lack of skills, they felt their survival was being threatened in one way or another.
There are four types of prisons in Pakistan: Central Jails, Special Jails, District Jails, and Sub-Jails. Conditions in Pakistan’s prisons have not been very encouraging. With out-dated laws and procedures, bad practices and poor oversight, the criminal justice system is characterized by long detentions without trial. As a result, prisons remain massively overcrowded, with nearly 33,000 more prisoners than the authorized capacity. The large majority of the total prison population – around 50,000 out of 78,000 – are remand prisoners awaiting or on trial. With more than two dozen capital offences, including many discriminatory provisions that carry a mandatory death penalty, the death-row population is the largest in the world. The current government has placed an informal moratorium on executions.
As of August 2011, there were 927,438 cases pending in Punjab’s lower courts, 99,981 in Sindh’s, 99,511 in KPK’s and 7,383 in Balochistan’s. Civil cases can take anywhere between ten to twenty years before a judgment, while criminal cases can take more than five years.. According to the 2010 annual report of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), the number of prisoners in 55 of the country’s 91 prisons far exceeded their sanctioned capacity; 27 prisons had more than twice the number of prisoners authorized.
Living conditions for prisoners are abysmal, with inadequate funding resulting in prisons often lacking health care facilities and sufficient medical personnel. With so many people living in close proximity to each other, prisons are the biggest breeding grounds for infectious diseases. The 2010 annual report of the HRCP found that adequate medical care was lacking in almost all prisons. There were, for instance, only three doctors for nearly 2,200 prisoners in Karachi’s Malir Jail. At least 50 inmates at the prison had HIV/AIDS, while some 400 had scabies. Sindh’s inspector general of prisons disclosed in January 2011 that 34 doctor and eleven dispenser posts in the province’s prisons remained vacant. According to the report, there were 255 prisoners suffering from HIV/AIDS in Punjab’s prisons; 1,979 from Hepatitis B; 5,223 from Hepatitis C; and 483 from tuberculosis. From October to December 2010, eleven detainees reportedly died in Punjab’s Jhang district jail due to the absence of adequate medical facilities.
Most of the prisons in the country do not have clean potable water. The UNODC survey revealed that only one prison had provision of safe drinking water for prisoners and staff, while the rest only provided unfiltered tap water, resulting in various water-borne diseases among the inmates, as well as the staff.
There are over 900 women prisoners in various prisons across the country, the vast majority in separate barracks within male prisons. Living conditions for female prisoners, however, are as abysmal as those for men. A 2011 UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) survey found unhygienic conditions in most of the major prisons of the country. Women with reproductive health needs have little or no access to healthcare. None of the 32 prisons In Punjab province provided obstetric surgery, and not a single gynecologist was available for women inmates. They survey also found that none of the major prisons had childcare facilities or provisions for children’s education and recreation.
More often than not, crimes are committed because of various psychological reasons, such as perceived unfair behavior by someone, jealousy, hate, anger, etc., yet, psychological counseling in available in very few prisons, it at all. The same is true regarding institutional arrangements for basic education or vocational training.
AlKhidmat firmly believes that people in prisons are human beings like everyone else and, therefore, they too, must be treated humanely. We also believe that one must not lock people up, throw away the key, and forget about them. With this positive mindset, and considering the dire conditions in Pakistani prisons as outlined above, AlKhidmat decided to address humanitarian issues in the prisons beginning with those that require urgent attention. The most important issues were identified as health care, including provision of clean water, and vocational training for inmates, so that they can become productive and self-sufficient members of society when they leave prison.
AlKhidmat decided to contact prison management in all four provinces of the country in order to solicit their cooperation so that a practical framework could formulated for relief work could be undertaken. Meetings with provincial prison management were extremely fruitful and AlKhidmat initiated various relief projects in the sectors mentioned earlier.
AlKhidmat has divided its Prisoners Welfare Program into two subsections:
AlKhidmat has now been working on various humanitarian projects in all the major jails of the country, such as hygiene awareness and promotion, informative lectures, distribution of informative pamphlets and booklets, and distribution of gifts on national days and cultural events. AlKhidmat has also been working on provision of sewing machines for women inmates, installation of water pumps and water filtration plants, and construction of medical wards in the country’s jails. These projects have had a very positive effect on the inmates, management, and environment of the jails, as well as helping the inmates in their reintegration into society as productive members.
Following is a province-wise summary of AlKhidmat’s progress regarding humanitarian work in prisons.
Prison Relief Work In Sindh Province
Although most cities usually have one prison, Karachi, being Pakistan’s largest city and having a large population, consequently has four prisons, with the oldest being Karachi Central Jail. AlKhidmat Karachi has been carrying out various relief activities for the prisoners, as well as for the benefit of prison management in general, in all the four prisons of Karachi for a long time. Relief work in prisons has been divided into four broad categories:
A four-member AlKhidmat Karachi team had visited Karachi Central Jail in December 2011 and met with Deputy Superintendant of the prison, Raja Mumtaz Awan, and discussed future prospects regarding AlKhidmat’s computer literacy programs for prisoners with him. The following objectives were agreed upon at the meeting:
· To formulate a strategic policy regarding computer literacy programs for the prisoners
· Provision of a computer lab for the prisoners
· Provision of stationary for the said computer lab
· A joint session between AlKhidmat and prison management would be organized to discuss and reach consensus regarding health related issues of prisoners which need to be addressed urgently
· Arrangement by AlKhidmat for preventive vaccination for prisoners and prison staff
In a second meeting with prison management AlKhidmat was assured that a NOC will be issued to AlKhidmat to carry out its above mentioned programs not only in all four prisons of Karachi, but in all the prisons of Sindh province. It was also decided that after the computer courses have been conducted successfully, examinations will be carried out in the second week of February 2012.
After meeting the requirements mentioned above, AlKhidmat was able to establish a computer lab at Karachi Central Jail. Pleasantly, interest of inmates in the program and progress achieved was beyond the expectations of AlKhidmat, as well prison officials and it was decided to:
· Hold permanent computer classes and exams at the prisons
· Affiliate the course with Sindh Board of Technical Education so that professional standards can be achieved and maintained, and so that students who pass the exams can receive legitimate certificates
· Upgrade the courses
· Establish a computer network at the lab
· Conduct the first exams on February 15, 2012
· Computer classes would be conducted for women prisoners too
Since the establishment of the computer lab, scores of men and approximately 55 women prisoners have benefitted from the computer courses and have received certificates from various dignitaries. Most recently, certificates were awarded to 10 women inmates who had successfully completed their CIS (Certificate in Information Systems) course at the Karachi Jail in May. This was the third such course organized for women inmates by AlKhidmat Foundation in collaboration with AlKhidmat Welfare Society Karachi and Women’s Aid Trust. The course completion certificates were handed out by acting-Speaker Sindh Assembly, Shehla Raza, and Provincial Minister for Law and Jails, Muhammad Ayaz Soomro.
Provincial IG Jails, Abdul Qadir Thepo, Superintendant of the women’s wing of the prison, Sheba Shah, President, Women’s Aid Trust, Ms Tahira, AlKhidmat Jail Affairs Manager, Muhammad Yunus, as well a large number of women inmates were also present at the occasion. To the added delight of the successful women and as encouragement for others, Mr Ayaz Soomro announced a three month reduction in the jail sentences of women who had completed the course.
Prison Relief Work In Punjab Province
AlKhidmat Foundation signed an agreement with the management of Punjab’s prisons in May 2012 whereby AlKhidmat will carry out various humanitarian projects at the prisons for the relief of prisoners, as well as prison staff, beginning with the installation of 10 water filtration plants. The agreement was signed on behalf AlKhidmat by its Vice President, Ehsanullah Waqas, and by Inspector General Punjab Prisons, Farooq Nazir, on behalf of the Government of Punjab.
AlKhidmat had earlier carried out microbiological tests for assessing the quality of water being supplied at each of Punjab’s 32 prisons, and it was discovered that only 12 of them had clean, potable water, while the water supply at the rest of the 20 prisons was not only below par, but was outright harmful for health. As a result, prisoners, as well as the prison staff, were suffering from various waterborne diseases.
It was then decided by AlKhidmat to install water filtration plants at ten of the prisons with the most contaminated water supply in the initial phase, namely:
The installation of the water filtration plants is expected to be completed within 15 days, that is, within the month of May 2012.
IG Punjab Prisons, Farooq Nazir, greatly lauded AlKhidmat’s commitment towards service to humanity and assured AlKhidmat’s VP that the prison management would continue to work with the foundation in future as well for improving conditions at Punjab’s prisons.
Prison Relief Work In Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa
AlKhidmat Peshawar has been also been active in various prison relief projects. Recent relief activity at various prisons in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa included:
Prison Relief Work In Balochistan
Conditions in Balochistan’s prisons are no different than in other prisons of the country. Overcrowding and dilapidated infrastructures cause problems of health and sanitation issues. An AlKhidmat team is currently assessing humanitarian and infrastructure needs in Balochistan.