With security officials making sure, unsuccessfully most of the time, of padlocking prisons in the wake of recent terror attacks and jail breaks, the concept of an open prison seems unheard of.
Twelve kilometres away from Badin, near a town named Mori, is an open prison for inmates serving time for offences as diverse as attempted murder or peddling hashish or stealing a goat from a nearby goth. This is one of the two open prisons in Pakistan, the second is in Faisalabad.
Isolated from the city, with overgrown wild plants covering its expanse, the Open Jail in Badin is a 2,000 acre land of government property which is lying vacant at the moment. A few steps away from the sign that reads ‘Open Prison – Rest House’ is a rusted tractor on the brink of collapse.
Dressed in plain clothes, Assistant sub-inspector, Dodho Khan Paryal has been working at the prison for the past 22 years and has a number of stories to tell, of the area, as well as of the prisoners.
It was decided that the prisoners would live here and cultivate this land for agricultural purposes. But then, they started fleeing the place.
-ASI, Dodho Khan Paryal
The structure was built in 1961, after the concept of an open prison in Pakistan was proposed in 1958. “The main focus of an open prison was to treat prisoners equally,” says Paryal.
“The concept obviously failed,” he added.
Starting off, he points towards three small brick houses scattered across the field, and stated that two of them were kept for the prisoners, while one was for a senior official.
Paryal said that the prisoners were assigned a week or two at the site, and then taken back to a closed prison. In later years, as the number of prisoners fleeing the area increased, the prisoners were only brought here to work in the mornings and shifted back to the Badin District Jail later in the day.
The prison administration, just to make sure the prisoners wouldn’t run away, used to take them to a nearby mosque to take an oath. Now, whether the prisoners took the oath truthfully is another matter altogether, because eventually, a lot of them did run away.
In other cases, there were also reports from nearby villages of children being harassed or their livestock or belongings being stolen.
Initially, there were at least 500 prisoners at the open prison. Usman Khaskheli, another constable at the site, said that, “between the period of 1981 to 1996, around 111 prisoners who were brought here on the basis of ‘good behaviour’ ran away,” leaving behind an embarrassed constable to answer to his seniors.
For 11 years after that the open jail was closed down, until 2008 when it was re-opened by the minister for law and prison, Mohammad Ayaz Soomro. It was once again shut down in 2011, after a few of the remaining prisoners finished their term, without fleeing the prison.
Currently, the jail administration includes 22 people assigned to take care of the open prison. But on the day Dawn.com spoke to them, there were only three present. Speaking about it, Paryal said that: “Apart from the three of us, there are not many officers who come here.”
Pointing towards a brick hut with a bolted door, Paryal said that this is the office of the senior superintendent, “who visits once in a while.”
The prison administration still brings in prisoners for menial work under its supervision and later takes them back. “Apart from that, the area stays vacant, the way it is now,” adds Paryal.
With 2,000 acres of vacant land lying around them, Paryal denied any reports of encroachment of the area. “This place is completely isolated from the city. So far, there have been no attempts of encroachment. None that I know of … ” he said.
More on open prisons:
- Our disgraced bowling star, Mohammad Asif was sent to an open prison.
- The old Indian classic, Do Aankhen Barah Haath that won many awards, including the Berlin Film Festival award was inspired by the story of an open prison in India. India has one open prison compared to Pakistan’s two.