“The prison is overcrowded, the calendars full, the judges busy, the lawyers ambitious, and the cops zealous. What does it matter if someone gets trapped here for a year or two, gets ruined here, goes mad here, commits murder or suicide here?” says James Baldwin while dissecting the criminal justice system America relies on. His words are an apt description of the Pakistani criminal justice system as well. In a report published by The Nation, more than half of the women in Punjab prisons are held captive in prison for drug offences. Officials opine that these women fell victims to drug abuse and then got involved in its trade because of their partners. However, independent studies tell that most of these women are wrongly implicated in such crime cases because of one reason or another. And then there are legal complexities in the criminal justice system, which are the leading causes of delays in trials of such detainees.

First things first, the state needs to divert its focus on the issue of women in prisons. All those who have been kept in prisons and not yet prosecuted should be released immediately if their stay in prison is according to the offences they had made in the first place. The rest of the prisoners should be prosecuted as soon as possible. They should not languish in the prisons any more without being tried in the courts. It is not any secret that the prisons and the facilities in these internment sites are far from satisfactory. Especially, the hygiene facilities in these jails are substandard. The Prime Minister (PM) of Pakistan Imran Khan, who requested the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia to pardon the Pakistanis who were languishing in the Saudi prisons, needs to have a look at the plight of female prisoners at home as well. Most of these women belong to low-income families who cannot bear the financial costs of legal fights.

While one does not deny that some of these women may be involved in the drug trade, however, studies like a 2017 report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights emphasised links between poverty, family roles and drug-related offences committed by women. The report demonstrated women having a secondary role in the commission of crimes or performing low-level or high-risk tasks, often at the request of their partners. Many organisations have noted that even basic reforms in the criminal justice system in general and prisons, in particular, can make a drastic improvement in the conditions of such women. The government should allocate some resources for making these reforms.