One need not look further than the state of affairs of prisons to realise that the justice system of Pakistan is extremely flawed and desperately requires reform. The federal ombudsman has set out to do just that and has proposed a committee, headed by a district and sessions judge, that will be authorised to inspect their jails, and will be responsible for the well-being of the prisoners and improving their environment.

The harsh conditions of detention in Pakistani prisons remain unchanged till today. Most prisons in the country house more prisoners than they have been built for and some cater prisoners twice their housing capacity. The overcrowding has been the result of a disposition to detain under-trial prisoners, and penal servitude being considered as the most effective punishment for offenders, which points to a complete failure to consider alternatives to custodial detention. This report has submitted proposals for significant expansion of probation and parole facilities to reduce the pressure on accommodation facilities in jails. Considering that 21,000 prisoners were on parole in Punjab alone, such a move is commendable and necessary.

Overcrowding also did not allow separation of prisoners according to the status of their cases, a consequence of which puts dangerous criminals in the mix with petty crimes, making jails a potential breeding ground for radicalisation, criminal activity and disease – universities to further one’s crime skills, so to speak. Asma Jahangir, who appeared on behalf of the Prison Reform Committee, said that under-trial prisoners have no access to legal aid and in most cases, they were not even aware of the date when they have to appear before a court, and it was suggested that information be computerised and updated regularly so such mishaps are avoided and the cases may be processed in proper time. Even though improving the squalid conditions of the jails is the utmost priority, the most important aspect of prison reforms is to focus on the rehabilitation of prisoners and make them productive members of society, instead of leaving them stuck in a cycle of crime and deprivation.