LAHORE - To ease overcrowding, the Punjab Prisons Department has finally snapped out of its slumber as it has sanctioned Rs 5 billion for the construction of 12 more jails across the province. In an exclusive talk with this newspaper, IG Prisons Punjab Farooq Nazir admits that he is gearing up for challenges not only in terms of overcrowding but also any likely attempt at a prison break-out by terrorists and criminals alike.
He said that 12 new jails will be built in Okara, Liya, Bhakkar, Mianwali, Hafizabad, Rajanpur, Narowal, Lodhran, Khanewal, Pakpattan and other cities by the end of this year. He said that construction work on a couple of them has been 70 percent completed, while all of them be ready for use by June 2015.
In 32 different jails in Punjab, there are a total of 49595 prisoners against a capacity of 21527 which works to about 130 percent of capacity.
“Once these jails are built and offenders are shifted, conditions will greatly improve.” he said.
The figures showing the overcrowding situation are shocking enough.
In Central Jail Gujranwala, 3201 inmates are locked up against the capacity of 913, making up the percentage of overcrowding to 251. The situation is more or less the same in other jails across Punjab. In district Jail Sheikhupra, lockups that can barely contain 590 inmates, as much as 2116 others have been crammed. Central Jail Rawalpindi has 4769 offenders while its maximum capacity runs to 1994. In Central Jail Lahore, the number has gone up to 3744, while its spacious enough for 1053 inmates only.
The only exception seems to be the Women Jail Multan where 91 offenders are living in a space enough for 166. District Jail Sialkot has 2268 inmates packed in a space for 722
On the degree of threat posed by terrorists, IG Farooq Nazir said he is taking no chances, although on being asked what those measures were, he said he could not share since they could help terrorists.
He only told the security of some of the more sensitive jails including Central Jail Rawalpindi and Dera ghazi Khan has been ramped up with the help of army and Rangers. He said that troops have been deployed to fend off any attempt at a prison break-out.
“We are focused so far as the security of our jails is concerned.” he said.
“I do not boast that we are invulnerable. Danger does exist but security is improving and there are greater checks than before.”
He said he was aware about the common practice of torture and corruption for which most jailers are notorious although when he was told about confessions of a certain warder who shared his experience with the newspaper as witness to a world of squalor where corruption and culture of bribery are order of the day, he tried to defend the department.
The scribe told the IG that this warder had confessed to seeing torture occurring on a daily basis especially after evening when warders usually lash offenders with belts until the entire premises blared with screams. The warder also told that whenever a new warder takes charge, the norm is that he is quickly offered bribes and inducements such as easy load, fruit baskets, expensive watches et all and if he does not relent, he is offered hard cash.
This warder told that all these bribes are meant to secure concessions such as the use of cell phone by dangerous inmates, allowing them to use drugs and at times even letting them run extortion rackets from the safety of the lockup. The IG shrugged off these revelations as just an exception, which he said does not holds true for all of the prisons. He also said that since jammers are in place, it is but impossible for anyone to use cell phone.
“Can you come across any place or department where corruption does not exist? he asked instead explaining the whole matter away.
On the question of torture, he was equally unfazed.
“In order to see to it that the practice is effectively eliminated, we have worked out a system with judiciary and certain NGOs. A session Judge and representatives of NGO visit premises frequently to inspect and punish those warders that are involved in torture.” He said.
He, however, admitted that at times the warders have to resort to what he calls, “use of force”.
“That happens when an inmate assaults a warder. 90 percent of them are basically of criminal bent. Some of them can be extremely violent.” He says.
He did not mince his words saying that the jails revolve around the idea of deterrence and punishment and going so far as to admit that there is also a magnanimous side to this bleak world particularly when it comes to the question of parole.
“We release prisoners on parole. There can be a number of factors that bear upon it such as the conduct and behavior. Government can order release of an inmate if he/she has completed more than 50 percent of the sentence. This year 500 such inmates have been released,” he said.
He said that among those languishing are also the unfortunate ones who have completed their entire sentence but remain inside because they fail to pay the diyat or the fine.
Since 2001, we have been able to raise 25 crore with the help of different NGOs and released 7 thousands offenders.
“Last month, we collected two crore to secure the release of 100 more inmates,” he said.
Crime-wise prison population also is indicative of different interesting trends.
There are 7000 prisoners who are on a death row. This is the highest number makes murder the most frequently committed crime in the province.
So far as prisoners Escape and Recapture offense is concerned, there is only one offender who happens to be a female.
There are seven convicts under Military Deserters Act. Under the Zina Ordinance 1979, 396 males and 18 females are incarcerated and undergoing trial.
So far as rape is concerned, there are a total of 1160 offenders across Punjab out of which 7 are females who are under trials. 80 of them are juveniles. The number of addicts including peddlers stand at 5560 out of which 25 are females.
There are a total of 760 juveniles serving time. There is just female out of them. 32 of them including females have been convicted of murder, while 212 others are under trial. 40 juveniles are charged with the attempt to murder and suicide. 101 of them are confined for crimes such as robbery and kidnapping.