LAHORE – The carpet-weaving industry is on the decline across the country because of the unprecedented loadshedding, but the industrial units inside the seven central jails of Punjab are flourishing with each passing day.

The list of items produced in these industrial units is long: carpets, blankets, bed sheets, cotton rugs (Darees), furniture, beds, iron cots, kit boxes, phenyl, Niwar and so on. Besides these, uniforms for warders are also stitched here and beauty courses are offered to female prisoners.

Besides meeting the needs of other prisoners, the products are also exported to commercial centres in Karachi, Lahore, Multan, Peshawar, Gujranwala, and other big cities. The prisons authorities claim that excellent stitching of uniforms and varnishing of carpets has increased their demand in the local as well as the international market, thus top quality carpets and furniture are exported to foreign countries and the revenue generated from commercial export is spent on the welfare of prisoners.

Authorities say according to the law, professional skills are being imparted to inmates only as under trial prisoners cannot be asked for physical work in accordance with the International Convention on Civil Rights for the Prisoners. According to official data available with The Nation, 2,500 convicted prisoners manufacture the aforementioned articles daily in the jail factories.

A total of 315 inmates play their part in producing such articles in the Rawalpindi central jail, 413 in the Faisalabad central jail, 390 in the Lahore central jail, 260 in the Bahawalpur central jail, 271 in the Sahiwal central jail and 573 in the new Multan central jail.

Authorities appoint a deputy superintendent as the in-charge of these factories. A factory in-charge said on condition of anonymity that professional trainers and teachers had been hired for the purpose. However, the official added that the inmates serving long-term imprisonment were also imparting training to their fellow prisoners.

“Around 95 per cent of female prisoners have illiterate background and commit crime owing to financial constraints,” Punjab Prisons IG Mian Farooq Nazeer told this scribe during a brief chat. He believed excluding exception cases educated and employed women never commit crimes, as they have reason for that. He said mostly females start business after their release from the jails.

About the traditional carpet-weaving system (Khadi) being used at industrial units, the inspector general said: “We have to engage maximum prisoners in work. “Yet, power looms are operational in different jails especially at Multan central jail.”

Mian Farooq stated that five-day remission was being awarded to the convict, working at the factory and the certificate was also issued after training diploma. About the export of these products, he said due to spare time the quality of the production inside jails topped the market so the demand for furniture, carpets and other articles increased. “But, we export and earn, which is sufficient to fulfil the needs and demands of the jails and the welfare of the prisoners,” he added.