The deficiencies of our criminal justice system and the massive inadequacies in our rehabilitation facilities have been a prevailing problem for quite some time. Organisations like the Justice Helpline and the Justice Projection Pakistan (JPP) have devoted time and funds to bringing awareness into the neglected human rights of the prison population; yet despite events organised, the most recent one in May, which gave platform to prisoners to voice their issues to influential members of civil society and police officers, there has been little development or resources directed towards reforming prisons or improving the conditions that prisoners are living in.

While political action towards this issue is missing, the only recourse remains the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has taken up a suo moto case about conditions of inmates in the country’s prisons due to overcrowding. For the court’s assistance, Federal Ombudsman office, has submitted through senior counsel Hafiz Ahsaan Ahmad Khokhar a report on the statistics of prisons, which may be the document needed to stir political attention towards the need to provide more funding to prisons.

According to the report, a total of 80,145 inmates are currently housed in 98 prisons of the four provinces against a sanctioned capacity of 56,495. This number of inmates is nearly 42 per cent more than the capacity- meaning there are nearly half of prison facilities available than what are needed to house prisoners.

The shortage of prisons compared to the oversupply of prisons means that there will be overcrowding of the jails already present. Overcrowding of jails is the primary source of all problems for the living standards of prisoners; it leads to a chronic shortage of edible food and potable water and a severe lack of hygiene, especially in lavatories and kitchens.  Overcrowding facilitates the easy spread of disease, with Hepatitis, HIV/AIDS and TB being rampant in jails across the country.

The Federal Ombudsman document reports on new prisons being constructed as a sign conditions may be improving, and recommends for the parliament to work on finalisation of the proposed amendments to the existing probation and parole laws, as well as diverting funds to improve conditions in jail. While these are very necessary steps, which our lawmakers are guilty of neglecting, the massive overcrowding of our prisons should also raise alarms about our increasing conviction rate and outdated evidentiary laws. While taking steps to build more prisons, we ought to also ask why there are so many incarcerations in the first place.