Crime and eternal punishment in KP’s jails

Barracks are bursting at the seams, riddled with internal crime

Crime and eternal punishment in KP’s jails
As with any other province of Pakistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s jails are also teeming with inmates. The Peshawar Central Prison where high-profile prisoners are incarcerated, is bursting at the seams with four times its capacity.

Built in 1854, the prison was supposed to hold 450 prisoners, 420 male and 30 female, in seven barracks. It is now home to 1,964 inmates. This includes 69 women as well as over a dozen infants in the solitary female barrack. Acknowledging the lack of space, Superintendent of Peshawar Central Jail Masudur Rehman said the capacity is being increased and he expects the new portion to be ready soon.

This pattern extends across the province. KP’s jails have room for around 7,500 prisoners but the current inmate population is 11,061, including 294 women. Around 70 percent of them are under-trial prisoners, which costs the provincial exchequer Rs376 million every year according to the Home and Tribal Department of KP.

Jail is never meant to be comfortable but overcrowding and lack of facilities adds another dimension to the misery of the inmates.
A cell phone worth one thousand will cost you seven thousand inside." And often a prisoner ends up buying the same cell phone several times. "I mean they will take the phone back after few days in a raid and will sell it back to inmates again and again"


In Peshawar Central Jail, life starts at 7 am when prisoners are let out of their overcrowded barracks, says Mujahid Khan, an under-trial inmate who is inside on drug-related charges.

“Other than the essential security of the prison, just about everything else is done by inmates. This includes cleaning, cooking, laundry, inside security, giving haircuts, teaching, making handicrafts and working as computer operators, which brings in a little income for the prison,” he said.

These activities keep the prisoners busy and make it easier to pass the time. The feeling of dread grows however, as the clock creeps towards 5 pm. This signals the end of their day, and their ‘freedom’ as they are quite literally herded back into their cells. “Animals are probably better off than we are. A prisoner has barely four feet of space in which to sleep,” said Mujahid.

“The lack of space is not the biggest problem though. It is very difficult to sleep at night because of the stench, the snoring or because someone is crying or even screaming,” he said while going about the daily tasks assigned to him.

What makes matters worse is that most prisoners have no clue when this torturous life will end. Mujahid has been in jail for four years with no idea about when he will get out. “I am illiterate and not aware about legalities or how courts work. All I know is that the jail administrators have not taken me to any hearings for the last three years.”


Corruption is rampant although Superintendent Rehman says that strict action is being taken against prison officials found to be involved in illegal activities inside the jail.

According to the penitentiary’s official website, 627 staff members, including officers, junior staff and warders, have been punished as part of efforts to curb corruption and improve the efficiency of the prison department. But this appears to have little or no impact on illicit activities inside the prison.

Cell phones are available, at a price. To the casual observer this may seem to be a simple luxury. But the presence of cell phones inside the jail has a dark side, beyond a simple breaking of the rules. Ishaq claims cell phones are also used to plan crimes, to harass witnesses, organize retaliation against other inmates and even place orders for drugs.

According to the official website of Inspectorate of Prisons KP, public call offices have been installed in various prisons in the province in cooperation with Warid. The installation was undertaken in the interest of the public and prisoners. These have facilitated the prisoners in communicating with their family members. Keeping in view the safety and security of the jails vis-à-vis the use of the facility, constant vigilance/reporting mechanism has also been introduced.

The men with the red caps are "numberdars" who are employed to maintain law and order inside the jail.
But they are often criminals themselves

Regarding the use of drugs and cell phones inside the jail, Rehman said, “We are leaving no stone unturned to control it.” He blamed inmates for bringing drugs into jail.

Numberdars are employed to maintain law and order inside the jail. According to Ishaq Khan who spent almost nine years in KP’s jails including Peshawar Central and Bannu Jail over murder charges, these numberdars are often criminals themselves. “They are frontmen for jailers so no one can directly blame jail security officials like the deputy superintendent or superintendent.” The numberdars collect money from inmates and this becomes a chain that goes all the way to the top. “How can you expect justice from a criminal?” he questioned.

Female barracks

Recently some female MPAs from KP visited the women’s section of Peshawar Central Jail and presented a report to the provincial assembly to highlight problems.

According to the report, 99 female inmates and 36 children are housed in the barrack. Out of the 36 children, 24 are under five years. The report also says the barrack is designed to hold only 30 inmates.

The report further says there are 24 infants living with their mothers and they get only half a liter milk a day which is not enough. There is also no special diet for pregnant inmates.

There is a small dispensary and hospital for women with six beds. Here too, there is a shortage of medical staff. During the visit, they saw that four beds were occupied by two pregnant women, a hepatitis-C patient, and a high-fever patient.

The MPAs also said in their report that most of the women in jail are illiterate and not aware of their legal rights. They suggested legal aid should be provided to the women.

Poor in jail

Life in jail is tough to begin with and worse if you belong to the middle class, says a former prisoner who spent almost three years inside.

It is a bitter truth that the quality of an inmate’s life in jails in KP depends on the amount of money he or she can pay the jailers and other members of the administration. Former inmate, Ibrar Khan, says that jail staff actively promotes a culture of bribery.

“New inmates have to show how deep their pockets are and this determines their potential benefits and privileges. For example, you can buy a place in the jail hospital or in a special barrack. But if you can’t grease palms, you are in for it, and your life becomes hell,” he said.

“Once I had worked for inmates in B class inside the jail, which is for high-profile prisoners and they have all kind of facilities such cell phones, drugs, beds, an air cooler and even TVs. He claims that the food served there is better and you even get warm water.

“The average prisoner sleeps on the cold hard floor but privileged inmates with ties to officials don’t face these hardships because luxury can be bought.” These ties go all the way up, as high as the jail superintendent, he claimed.

“Murderers, rapists and other convicted criminals often pay off corrupt individuals inside prison and even outside to get all they want and having a pretty good time,” Ibrar said.

Jail life is worse than hell for the poor, Ishaq added. “Even in jail the poor face similar issues such as inflation. A cell phone worth one thousand will cost you seven thousand inside.” And often a prisoner ends up buying the same cell phone several times. “I mean they will take the phone back after few days in a raid and will sell it back to inmates again and again.”

This was confirmed by several inmates. “The guards sell the phones while the numberdars are involved in selling drugs inside,” an inmate said.

Money can and does buy happiness, even in prison.


Prisons are supposed to be more than just a place where criminals serve time as punishment. Rehabilitation and reform are always part and parcel of penitentiaries all over the world. It is not just about doing time and as punishment but time spent behind bars is expected to help prisoners reform and prepare them to re-enter society.

Sadly, the story is completely different in almost every jail of KP. “Inmates are exposed to violence, humiliation, and disrespect,” says Ishaq.

There is not much hope for rehabilitation in such an environment. The opposite is often true. “I have seen many innocent people, who come to jail for a short-term, join crime rings while still in prison,” Ishaq said.