Punjab Govt Introduces ‘Landmark’ Reforms To Improve Prison Facilities

Punjab Govt Introduces ‘Landmark’ Reforms To Improve Prison Facilities
LAHORE: The Punjab government has introduced comprehensive prison reforms to ensure provision of better facilities, including healthier dietary options, and enable access to justice including remission of sentences, for inmates in jails across the province, The Friday Times (TFT) has learnt. 

A senior bureaucrat, part of the chief minister’s core team, confirmed to TFT that on March 17, caretaker CM Punjab Syed Mohsin Raza Naqvi made a surprise visit to camp jail Kot Lakhpat and visited the barracks of male and female inmates. 

“CM Naqvi witnessed that on one bed there were 3 women prisoners, and said that there should be one bed for one prisoner. The CM said that it is unfair to provide only one bed to three prisoners,” the senior official said. He added that the CM also inquired about the health facilities provided to prisoners at jail along with the quality of food. 

Sources said that the chief minister inquired from inmates about the problems they faced, including health facilities, meals, accommodation and legal issues being faced by prisoners. It may be recalled that a recent report by the Human Rights Watch also exposed the horrid conditions in Pakistani jails, and called on authorities to enact reforms. 

“On his return from camp jail, a decision about introducing comprehensive prison reforms was taken, and it is the first time in the history of the province that someone gave importance to the well-being of prison inmates in Punjab,” a senior official said. 

After the visit, caretaker CM Punjab Mohsin Naqvi instructed the team to formulate prison reforms based on the problems that were highlighted during his visit to the Kot Lakhpat facility. The reforms framework is now being implemented in prisons across the Punjab province. 

The Punjab government has also appointed a focal person to ensure that inmates who are suffering from kidney and liver diseases can get treatment from state of the art Pakistan Kidney and Liver Institute and Research Centre (PKLI-RC) in Lahore. 

Prison conditions in Punjab province 

As per official figures, there are 43 jails across Punjab which includes 9 central jails, 27 district jails, one women’s jail, 2 juvenile jails, 2 sub jails and 2 high security prisons. 

According to official figures reviewed by TFT, in 2021 there were 51,411 prisoners in the province, of whom 33,206 prisoners were undertrial, 15,438 prisoners were convicts and 2,767 prisoners were condemned to life in prison. 

In 2022, there were 53,876 prisoners in total, comprising 37,149 prisoners undertrial, 14,401 convicted prisoners, and 2,326 condemned prisoners. In 2023 so far, there are 52,893 prisoners in total: 35,782 undertrial prisoners, 14,723 convicts and 2,388 condemned inmates. 

“The actual capacity of jails is around 38,000 prisoners, and our jails are currently overpopulated,” a senior official said. 

Prison staff and budget 

As per the official figures on the strength of prisons staff seen by TFT, the total number of sanctioned BPS-1 to BPS-15 staff is 20,692, out of which 7,156 positions are vacant. Total sanctioned staff for BPS-16 and above is 1,074, out of which 410 seats are vacant. 

As per the official figures of the 2020-2021 budget, prisons were allocated a total of Rs 10,452 million (Rs 814.709 million development and 9,637 million non-development) which increased to Rs 11,824 million (Rs 976.017 million development and 10,848.933 million non-development) in 2021-2022. In 2022-23, the prisons budget stands at Rs 21,012.433 million, which comprises Rs 7,218.699 million development and Rs 13,793.744 million non-development. 

A senior official told TFT that in the annual development plan (ADP) for 2022-2023, the original allocation was Rs 7,218.699 million whilst the revised allocation was Rs 3,426.987 million. Eventually, the funds released by the finance department are approximated at Rs 3,295.120 million. 

“The funds utilized till March 17 are Rs 2,249.92 million, which are 68 percent of released funds,” the senior official said. 

Improving quality of inmates’ diet during Ramzan

Senior official at the prisons department told TFT that after CM Naqvi approved the prison reforms, we have introduced the same diet for all classes of prisoners. 

“We are providing them breakfast, lunch, dinner and iftar meals and have also standardized food items i.e. milk, tea, oil etc.,” an official said. 

“The food quality has improved and prison officials are regularly checking the food items being served to us. We are grateful to CM Naqvi for taking care of us,” said Abdul Ghaffar, one of the prisoners at district jail in Lahore. 

“During Ramzan we are also providing halwa, milk and vermicelli in place of fruits such as bananas and apples on alternative days,” kitchen officials at camp jail said.

Officials said that proper SOPs have been devised for provision of nutritionist food to prisoners and quality of food is regularly checked. 

“They provide us with vegetables, fruits and meat to eat and every day different food is served as per the time table,” said Kaneez Bibi, one of the prisoners. 

Remission/payment of fine and Diyat

As per the Punjab prison reforms, prisoners would be released after payment of fine, diyat, daman and arsh

“Presidential remission on special occasions under Article 45 of the constitution of Pakistan will be implemented in true letter and spirit”. 

Food distribution initiatives 

One senior official privy to the Punjab prison reforms initiative said that the hygiene of jail kitchens has improved and utensils for prisoners have been replaced and for the first time food distribution trolleys along with motor rickshaw trolleys are purchased and the meal distribution timings have also been rationalized.

Living conditions of prisoners 

Sources maintained that after the prison reforms initiative has been swiftly implemented, the condition of prison jails have turned around. “Now the diet of prisoners have improved with better nutrition items but water filtration plants and chillers are also installed in all the jails across Punjab. 

“The renovation of the toilets was done in just a couple of days and now they are in good condition. Previously, they were in poor condition,” one of the prisoners told this scribe. 

Agreeing with him, Ghulam Abbas, one of the prisoners at camp jail told TFT that during scorching heat it was very difficult to spent time in barrack after CM’s visit we have witnessed that there is no load shedding as he promised us that jails would be made loadshedding free. 

“Funds have been released by the provincial government on war footings and we have started installing ceiling fans, desert coolers and exhaust fans in prisons across Punjab,” one of the officials said. 

Correctional and vocational training 

A senior official told TFT that after prison reforms, authorities have started imparting remission based on formal and religious education for Muslim as well as non-Muslim inmates. 

“Remission based certified vocational training is also started at 15 jails in Phase-I through TEVTA,” one of the officials said. 

Rehabilitation of drug addicts 

“On CM Naqvi’s instructions, the 20 bed hospital for treatment of drug addicts at 17 jails has started, along with maintenance of the health profile of prisoners,” one of the superintendents told TFT.  

Health screening is also introduced in collaboration with Primary and Secondary Health Care Department (P&SHD).

 “Funds and proper mechanisms are also devised for the provision of medicines in prisons,” officials said. 

Educational remission for inmates 

“We have introduced additions to Rule 215, which is about educational remission, and we have introduced remission to prisoners after qualifying TEVTA courses. We have also introduced remission for minorities,” the official said. 

“Additions in rule 18-A for online prisoners database management is also introduced along with MoU with NADRA for verification and registration of prisoners on admission in jails”. 

Provision of funds to enhance prison facilities

CM Naqvi has also approved recruitment against 2,331 vacant posts of warders to counter serious terrorism threats to jails. 

The Punjab government has approved a provision of Rs 50 million to cater to the emergency needs at the prisons i.e. jammers, CCTV cameras, and other equipment which was damaged during riots at district jail in Gujrat. 

“Block allocation of Rs 1,000 million is also approved for training, arms/ammunition, security gadgets and transport,” officials said. 

A senior official confirmed that additional funds for dietary improvements (Rs 1,556.858 million_ and electricity charges of Rs 1,156.810 million for emergency requirements, and pending liabilities have also been approved, along with an as-yet unallocated budget of Rs 60 million for M&R jails. 

“CM had also instructed to extend vocational training courses in 10 jails in phase-II by TEVTA,” the official said. 

CM Naqvi has also approved provision of IG Prisons and DIGs vehicles for inspection along with provision of tractor trolleys for multi-purpose tasks. “He also approved SNEs to overcome acute shortage of Mos,” jail officials said. 

Construction of prisons complex in Lahore 

It is pertinent to mention here that a notification for leasing Auqaf land for construction of Prisons Complex Lahore has also been issued. 

“Prisons complex Lahore and district jails of Chiniot, Khushab and Rahim Yar Khan are also included in ADP for 2023-24,” an official privy to this development confirmed to TFT

The writer is a senior correspondent at The Friday Times with a focus on politics, economy and militancy. He also hosts the Hassan Naqvi Show on Naya Daur.