THAT Larkana Central Prison authorities had to resort to the excuse of “cleaning the jail” to shift 13 dangerous criminals to other facilities amid uncontrollable rioting by the inmates speaks volumes. It demonstrates how easy it is for criminal elements to hold the state hostage and exploit the law for their own gain. These particular outlaws were described by jail authorities as ringleaders of various groups operating inside the prison who had been fomenting unrest for a few months. Among their demands was that there be no check on the supply of illicit articles, such as mobile phones, liquor etc into the barracks from outside.
This is exactly the kind of situation the Islamabad High Court referred to in December last year while remarking that the country’s prisons had turned into “epicentres of crime, corruption and corrupt practices”. The court had observed that while on the one hand, the basic rights of vulnerable inmates were being violated, on the other, there was a “phenomenon of elite capture” in jails that enabled prisoners with influence and connections to bend the law to their advantage. Given the dismal state of the country’s prisons, these problems have been long in the making. Overcrowding and lack of proper facilities in jails are serious issues: the Larkana Central Prison, for instance, currently houses 1,033 inmates against a total capacity of 650. This, combined with the lack of modern infrastructure, poorly trained jail staff and lack of resources and personnel, creates an environment where human dignity and rights can neither be ensured nor protected. Moreover, the lack of investment in prison staff in terms of professional training and competitive salaries makes them even more susceptible to be influenced or blackmailed by criminal elements operating within and outside jails. The authorities should learn from this episode and start taking immediate measures to rectify the dire conditions prevailing inside the country’s prisons. In the present circumstances, life behind bars is enough to make hardened criminals out of even petty thieves.
Published in Dawn, January 16th, 2022