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ISLAMABAD: The Wafaqi Mohtasib secretariat in a set of recommendations has requested the Supreme Court to order the Higher Education Commission (HEC), Allama Iqbal Open University and other universities and reputable government institutions to assist in improving educational and skill training of deserving inmates in different jails of the country.

The recommendations were furnished by Hafiz Ahsaan Ahmed Khokhar, the counsel for Wafaqi Mohtasib, before the apex court seized with a suo motu case regarding the conditions of inmates in prisons because of overcrowding.

At the last hearing, Mr Khokhar had informed the court that there were 78,160 inmates in total 98 jails against a sanctioned capacity of 63,532 prisoners. Of this, 1,955 are women, including convicts and under-trial prisoners, 25,195 convicted, 48,780 under-trial, 1,225 juvenile and 4,688 condemned prisoners.

There are 78,160 inmates in total 98 jails against a sanctioned capacity of 63,532

The Mohtasib asked the provinces to constitute committees for taking steps for the improvement of life of the inmates in jails, especially children, women and the destitute. Besides, district oversight committees should also be formed to monitor the implementation of court orders in their respective districts and to submit deficiencies, if any, to the respective home department/IG prisons.

These committees should consist of members from civil society, bar associations and educational and health sectors who have proven track record of significant contributions to improving the life of prisoners.

The interior ministry and provincial home or prison departments should also be directed to appoint senior officers to act as focal persons to help these committees conduct surprise visits to jails.

Likewise, the Law and Justice Commission of Pakistan together with advocates general and provincial ombudsmen should review and submit proposals for significant expansion of probation and parole facilities to reduce pressure on accommodation facilities in jails. The probation and parole system needs to be revisited and made more effective to deal not only with overcrowding but also for reformation of convicts, juvenile and first-time offenders.

The Mohtasib suggested that the provincial governments build jails in every district headquarters and the federal government in Islamabad. Every jail should have separate and independent portion for women and juvenile prisoners with sleeping space for every prisoner as well as adequate toilet and hygiene facilities.

There is a need, the recommendations highlight, to link the biometric system in jails with courts for maintaining the record of prisoners. Peshi roaster and jail record/registers should also be computerised/automated. The provincial governments should also be asked to proceed accordingly and ensure development of an interface between jails, courts and the National Database and Registration Authority for monitoring and verification of the prisoners’ record.

Likewise, drug users and mentally insane prisoners should be kept outside the premises of jails in drug clinics/homes for mentally retarded prisoners and provided medical treatment.

The ministries concerned at the federal and provincial levels should also be directed to allocate necessary funds and resources for improvement in jails.

The Mohtasib said the Pakistan Bar Council and provincial bar councils should also be advised to provide free legal aid to prisoners, especially to under-trial prisoners, and for appeal purposes.

The recommendations said that though some philanthropic assistance was currently being provided to the prisoners in coordination with local community/NGOs, still there was a need for an effective mechanism to address the issues of welfare of prisoners and provision of facilities such as mattresses, medicines, exhaust fans, electric water cooler and blankets, as well as payment of fines in respect of poor prisoners for their early release.

Published in Dawn, September 21st, 2018