The Islamabad High Court’s humanitarian concerns in granting bail to 408 on-trial prisoners must be applauded. With the news of an inmate in Camp Jail Lahore testing positive for the coronavirus, the state of our prisons and the system in general begs a review. Overcrowding is one of the more obvious problems, and in a time like this, so many individuals placed in a cramped space together is a recipe for disaster.

Having said that, there is little in the way of solutions to this problem, apart from putting on-trial prisoners on bail – like the IHC did – and easing the load on the prison system by using makeshift jails where possible. Under normal circumstances, holding cells in police stations could have been used, but this will unnecessarily expose the police to unneeded human exposure.

What this pandemic also makes us realise is that it is high time that we focus on reforms to the justice system, in terms of the rehabilitation of former criminals. One of the reasons for overcrowding is that there is a permanence to being a criminal in Pakistan. Our system focuses on retribution and punishment – which is fundamental – but it ignores rehabilitation, which must be included if we want to make sure that once former convicts serve their sentence, they do not return to a life of crime.

As a result of the coronavirus, the temporary changes we need to make in our everyday lives and the way certain institutions are operated gives us the opportunity to reflect. There are things we can learn from this; right now, we only have to save lives. But none of these lessons should be forgotten, once this infection is past us. Self-improvement can be spurred on by even the smallest of incidents; the only silver lining here is that we continue on our path towards progress.