Nearly 70 percent of Pakistan’s prison population consists of under-trial prisoners who have not been convicted of a crime. Yet even without a conviction, most of them may already have been served a death sentence, as the coronavirus infection rate in prisons is leagues higher than that of overall cities.

It is not difficult to see why the epidemic would spread so viciously across jails. These are people already in lockdown – but with daily visitors. It would take only one infected person to infect the entire prison – with rampant overcrowding and shortage of facilities, it is not surprising that the infection rate in Lahore’s Camp jail is 19.33/1000, compared to the 0.09/1000 rate in the city of Lahore. It should also not be difficult to predict the complete devastation that the coronavirus disease could cause to prison residents, many of whom are severely immunocompromised, have mental health problems, and poor access to sanitation and healthcare.

What is alarming is that there is no concrete data being released by the government on the rate of infections in prisons, leaving NGOs and data analysts unable to predict accurately the scope of the problem and consequently how the government should approach it. Civil society organisations, state and non-state research groups and all other stakeholders can provide valuable insight on how best to deal with the pandemic across where sectors; accurate data is a necessity for this.

A rise in coronavirus cases in prison means further infection in Pakistan. Not only are prisoners affected but so are the prison staff. The data discrepancies only serve to exacerbate the already alarming situation. Data should be streamlined and sops followed. Infections in prisons will lead to an outbreak outside too.