The human being is interesting in the sense that he carries a paradox of yearning for a social life and carrying out anti-social activities. At both individual and collective levels, human being has tried to lean towards sustaining an exultant social life and abhorring anti-social deeds. Compared to the past when castigatory punishments meted out to malefactors, modern societies have humanised punishments. Imprisoning is one such punishment.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821-1881), a Russian novelist, once said that the degree of civilisation in a society could be judged by entering its prisons. Perhaps, this is why a few days ago, for undertraining police officers, National Police Academy, Islamabad, arranged a one-day incognito living experience for the trainees with the inmates of Adiala Jail, Rawalpindi. One of the objectives of the quest was to let the trainees see by themselves life in jails and understand the problems confronting inmates. Though one day was inadequate to develop a broad base of the experience, the episode enabled the trainees to learn new things and broaden their horizons.

The life in prison can be viewed in seven various ways. Each of which will be discussed here separately in a general sense, not restricted to Adiala jail only.

First, over-population in society has also taken its toll on prisons: more prisoners are stuffed in less space. Overcrowding of prisons offers its own challenges ranging from unrestrained spread of contagious diseases to the spread of putrefying thoughts. That is dangerous for the physical well-being of a prisoner while this is inimical to the mental orientation of the prisoner. Nevertheless, in the context of offence, the provision of opportunities to let under trial offenders mix with convicted offenders in a shared cell or even out of it is rather portentous. Not only are crime stories shared, but also modes of committing crimes and evading the police shackle are exchanged. Inchoate offenders develop associations with habitual offenders called jailbirds. Similarly, non-violent offenders (such as those involved in theft) and violent offenders (such as those involved in stabbing) consort with each other. This is how jails themselves become nurseries of crime instead of becoming rehabilitation centers. One solution may lie in constructing more prisons, but another solution lies in ameliorating the lot of society to dispatch fewer members to prisons.

Second, prisons embrace both habitual offenders and first-time offenders. Both kind of offenders bring along psychological problems and psychiatric ailments. Incidentally, the use of narcotics has been found frequent with these offenders. One reason may be their mental abnormal state which led to committing a crime whereas the other reason may be to diminish the smite of guilt of committing the crime. This is how narcotics is a source of offering refuge to most inmates. The consequent increase in demand overrules the restrictions on the supply of narcotics in jails. No doubt, a clamor is frequently risen in the press on the availability of narcotics in jails but almost no emphasis is given on psychological improvement and psychiatric treatment of inmates. Only those are sent to mental hospitals (or asylums) who develop their illness to an advanced level. Unfortunately, the availability of narcotics minimizes the prospects for rehabilitation. One solution may lie in an in-jail management of psycho-psychiatric issues, but another solution lies in improving the lot of society to control drug usage.

Third, solitary confinement in prisons is considered the harshest of punishments. One view is that a separate cell offers an ideal place for introspection leading to personal betterment. However, the other view is that, as solitary confinement promotes introversion, it is a main hindrance to rehabilitation. In the West, it has been found that the society members who are prone to committing crimes especially of heinous nature have either experienced a faulty socialisation or remained subject to limited socialization in their lives. Consequently, it has been found that group discussions done regularly under the supervision of psychologists offer more chances of early and successful rehabilitation than through the myths attached to the benefits of solitary confinement. One solution may that counselling sessions be arranged to establish stability in the personality of prisoners to make them reformed and reintegrated citizens once they are released. Similarly, to offer them a sense of inclusion, inmates be allowed to celebrate cultural and political festivities. Another solution may that society teaches its members pluralism (societal and religious) and tolerance, besides the advantages of co-existence so that they can rise above social and sectarian divides, and avoid populating prisons.

Fourth, jail authorities presume that most prisoners are incorrigible no matter how much effort to pull them out of the world of crime is done through the process of rehabilitation. Jail authorities cite examples of recidivism practiced by many prisoners. Unfortunately, this presumption itself frustrates the very rationale for rehabilitation. Moreover, this presumption offers jail authorities a leeway to manhandle prisoners and subject them to psychological torture which in turn aggravates petulance and depression in inmates. This situation may develop a reactionary individual which causes more harm to society after getting released from the jail. The solution lies in changing the conceptual approach of jail authorities towards prisoners. Jail authorities need to understand that criminals are an extension of society, as Khalil Gibran wrote in his Magnum Opus, The Prophet: “[A] single leaf turns not yellow but with the silent knowledge of the whole tree.” That is, crime and criminal tendencies do not originate in isolation: these are the products of society. Not destiny but social unevenness engenders outlaws. The obverse side of the argument is that inmates deserve a second chance to redeem their mistakes and prove their worth.

Fifth, learning opportunities, such as faculty development and skill learning are limited. Not all prisoners find chances to develop their talent and learn new skills to be useful citizens after their jail term is over. Jail authorities use their discretionary power to exempt some prisoners from exposing themselves to learning opportunities, wherever these are available. Consequently, after serving his sentence, an inmate finds the world around no different from the past. Getting misfit in society financially is one of the major reasons for the relapse to crime. In this regard, a solution can be found out in arranging a rehabilitation program developed in collaboration with local industry which could transfer skills to inmates. Moreover, remission in sentence should not be the prerogative of jail authorities. Instead, it should be granted on the basis of conduct showed and skill learnt.

Sixth, infrastructure in prisons is mostly outdated and faulty. Prisons are rife with problems ranging from clean drinking water to safe sanitation practices. The cooked food provided lacks flavor and variety. It is like every inch of a prison offers punishment to inmates. One of the reasons may be that prisoners are considered lesser human beings who are destined for prisons only. The solution lies in offering refresher courses to jail authorities.

Seventh, much worry is about the babies born and brought up in jails. This jail generation needs serious consideration by both jail authorities and society for their prompt and smooth societal integration.