ISLAMABAD: A high-level commission, constituted by the Islamabad High Court (IHC), has revealed that jails across the country are not only over crowded but that over 5,000 inmates suffer from fatal diseases like HIV and hepatitis. Despite the situation, about half of the sanctioned posts of medical jail staff are lying vacant.

Minister for Human Rights Dr Shireen Mazari, who is chairperson of the commission, submitted the report before IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah on Saturday.

According to the report, the overall occupancy in jails of four provinces is 73,661. It said that “as compared to the total population, the overall authorised capacity of prisons across Pakistan is only for 56,634 inmates”. In Punjab alone, out of 29 of the 41 prisons are overcrowded whereas in Sindh eight prisons are overcrowded.

FEDERAL Minister for Human Rights Dr Shireen Mazari speaks to reporters outside the Islamabad High Court on Saturday.—APP
FEDERAL Minister for Human Rights Dr Shireen Mazari speaks to reporters outside the Islamabad High Court on Saturday.—APP

The report said: “Amongst the total prison population, there are currently almost 2,100 prisoners with physical ailments, approximately 2,400 inmates who are suffering from contagious diseases like HIV, Hepatitis and Tuberculosis and approximately 600 prisoners who suffer from mental disorders.”

The report pointed out that an overwhelming majority of inmates in jails comprised of under trial prisoners (UTPs). In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, out of the 9,900 prisoners, 7,067 are UTPs — which is 71 per cent of the total number of prisoners.

In Sindh, 16,315 are the total prisoners and the UTPs are 11,488 (70pc). In Balochistan, out of 2,122, UTPs are 1,244 (59pc) and in Punjab out of 45,324 prisoners, 25,054 (55pc) are under trial.

Ironically, the UTPs have to be kept with convicted prisoners, which is against global rules.

The report disclosed that about half of the posts of medical staff are vacant. It said: “The Pakistan Prison Rules contain provisions of adequate medical and legal assistance, however, the primary problem is that of implementation of these rules.”

The data received from the prison departments across Pakistan revealed that almost half of the sanctioned posts of medical staff remain vacant. Every prison is not equipped with medical and dental equipment and very few prisons have functioning labs and paramedical staff, it said.

The prison departments lack adequate provisions of medical and technical equipment such as ECG machines, X-Ray machines, ultrasound machines, oxygen cylinders, dental units, laboratories and beds in the prison hospitals.

The report pointed out that the data provided by the Punjab Prison Department showed that 10pc of the prisons don’t have ambulances and those that do are not well equipped. The Balochistan Prison Department, in the report, shared that they only had four ambulances for the entire province. The commission discovered that approximately 200 prisoners were unable to receive medical assistance due to lack of ambulances in prisons in Sindh.

Ms Mazari told the court that due to the slow disposal of cases in the trial courts, the number of UTPs was higher than of the convicted prisoners.

Justice Minallah observed that Islam teaches fair treatment of prisoners. He remarked that it was the responsibility of the government to take care of the prisoners who suffer from diseases during incarceration. The government had all the power to release such prisoners even without the court’s nod, he added.

Published in Dawn, January 19th, 2020