Ayyan’s case – even if involving legal and factual peculiarities known only to investigators and the court – presents a useful case study for understanding the prisoner classification system in Pakistani jails.

Does famous model Ayyan Ali – imprisoned in Adiala Jail and under trial on a single charge of attempting to smuggle half a million dollars through VIP lounge of the Islamabad Airport while flying out to Dubai – deserve VIP treatment in prison while she is under trial? The Customs Court believes not. However, since prisons are the only place where one cannot condemn VIP treatment for first time offenders out of hand, one is compelled to consider the policy behind differential treatment of prisoners in jails.

Ayyan’s rejected application had asked for ‘B’ class facilities in prison. Currently, the prison rules permit such facilities for prisoners “accustomed to a superior mode of living”. Further, ‘A’ class facilities are available to prisoners who are not only “accustomed to a superior mode of living” but also have a “good character” and have been accused of a relatively minor and casual crime. ‘C’ class is for the residual prisoners. According to the Customs Court, Ayyan belongs to the ‘C’ class.

The focus of this classification on the “mode of living” the prisoner is “accustomed to” suggests that the policy is to use prisons to merely ground people, as if in their own house, so as to allow introspection and rehabilitation instead of adding psychological and physical torture to the penalty of imprisonment. This is evident from the recorded judicial wisdom that prisoners holding a graduation degree are, in the absence of other relevant facts, necessarily “accustomed to a superior mode of living”.

Since any tax-paying citizen acting under social pressure or personal neurosis can commit a serious first offence and be imprisoned according to due process, it makes good sense that prison rules should try to reduce the pain of imprisonment for such a citizen relative to habitual offenders. Further, the rehabilitative view of prison administration would unequivocally argue that, even if differential class treatment was a social malaise, the solution in case of prisons would be increasing prison conditions for all inmates and not taking away everyday facilities that may be available to a select few.