PAKISTAN: Jails, breeding places and recruiting grounds for hard-core militants

With the collapse of the overall system of governance in Pakistan, the jail system followed suit and collapsed. As the last resort in the system of criminal justice, jails were meant to reform an individual who has gone astray and resorted to crime. Due to pervasive corruption and incompetence the prison system has been reduced to a farce. It has become a factory for criminals, churning out hardened criminals instead of reformed individuals. 

While the petty criminals are made to suffer in silence, hard-core militants are given the status of a class A prisoner. They are allowed luxuries that the general, outside poor population can only dream of. For instance, the recent incident in Karachi Central Prison – Sindh province’s largest prison-where two high profile militants of Lashkar – e- Jhangvi splinter group managed to escape. The incident speaks volumes about the lax state of security inside the jail for hard-core criminals. The pair, Shaikh Mohammad Mumtaz and Mohammad Ahmed Khan, was involved in sectarian killings and were facing trials in 32 criminal cases at least. The two literally walked out of the prison. The guards watched not knowing that the men were militants.

According to the investigative report, the jailbreak showed the terrorists escape was made with proper planning. It took many days for the activity to take shape as it could not be done in a single day. To add salt to the wound, jail personnel did not notice the escape for a whole day!

Considerable delay in realizing that the two were missing and knowing that they were no ordinary criminals raises questions as to the professionalism and integrity of prison authorities. The lax security points to official complicity in their escape amounting to Criminal Negligence.

As a measure of damage control and face-saving the investigation into the incident is ongoing. The prison Superintendent is said to have been arrested. However, these measures will do little to reverse the damage already done. It is tantamount to the proverbial closing of the barn door after the horse has bolted. It is 7 days since their escape. Yet, the inmates have continued to evade being captured by law enforcement agencies and remain missing.

The jail break in KPK province is not the first incident. Earlier in 2014 the authorities foiled an attempt at a jail break to free some 100 militants. They dug a tunnel starting from a house located near the jail. The conspiracy was unearthed when the militants were only a few meters away from finishing the tunnel.

The complexity of the 2014-foiled attempt at jail break can be gauged from the following facts. The terrorists used modern methods for breaking into the jail and a satellite to locate the entrance into the barracks. Sources said that with the added help of GPS an exact line emerged for digging the tunnel.

In 2012, Ehsanullah Ehsan, ex-spokesman for the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the poster-boy of a laundered terrorist was responsible for a mass jail break in Bannu district of KPK province.Some 400 prisoners escaped from the Bannu jail. It is the largest escape in the history of jail breaks in Pakistan

It is not difficult to conclude that jail authorities colluded in all such jail breaks. Jail personnel collude with the resourceful inmate in exchange for financial gains to allow them access to prohibited items. And while these hard core militants with deep pockets had all these luxuries at their disposal, a poor convict or Under Trial Prisoner has no access to even two square meals a day.

Following the incident, a mass search ensued inside the jail which revealed a treasure trove of cell phones, air coolers, Internet devises LCD, power generators, internet devises and even jammers to jam the devises used to curtail the cell phone signal.

Despite the ongoing Military operations in the country the slack security inside the jail is unfathomable.

• Instead of focusing on reforming, the State has allowed the jails to become breeding places and recruiting grounds for hard core militants. Lax security for high profile terrorists, who are not generally kept separate from other prisoners, allows them to spread their influence and propagate dangerous ideology.

Mismanagement, corruption and incompetence lies at the core of jail problems. The largest prison in the country is a hub of criminal activities. 

In fact, it has been reported that several terrorist attacks were planned inside jails by the jailed leaders of banned groups. The prison has become a boardroom for committing mass murder while jail authorities look the other way

A report prepared by the prisons department for the home ministry in 2017 shows the Central Prison Karachi (CPK), built in 1899, houses 6,174 prisoners against the authorized capacity for 2,400 inmates. Of these, 4,975 are under trial and 1,188 convicts. The Central Prison is quoted by the report to be the most overcrowded of the 25 prisons in Sindh province.

In the 2016 budget, Karachi jail was given the mere sum of 480,762,000 for jail affairs and the upkeep of 6,000 plus prisoners out of a total budget of 3,230,709,000 rupees ear-marked for all jails in the country.

The paucity of funds coupled with corruption has made it impossible for the inmates to serve their sentence with dignity. A bribery culture inside the prison is no secret to the Authorities. The inmates have to put up cash to escape torture or to appear in court for trial. The female inmate too must bribe the jail officers to access feminine hygiene products. The rate of each “favour” varies from a few hundred rupees to thousands of rupees which a poor offender cannot afford. As a result, many inmates remain incarcerated several years after their sentence is finished or are incarcerated without trial for decades.

Torture is rampant inside the jail and is used as a tool of creating an atmosphere of fear. Under Trial Prisoners (UTPs) who are tortured by jail authorities do not and cannot complain of torture because they fear for their lives. If a prisoner complains to the Judge about the ill- treatment meted out to him, he is denied food and visitation rights from family members by jail authorities

Marred by corruption and incompetence, the jail authorities seek bribes from visitors to allow them to meet with their loved ones inside the jail.

Furthermore, the mal-treatment of the inmates has been shrugged off by the jail authorities and the magisterial staff who turn a deaf ear to the woes of the prisoners. The basic amenities such as proper food and hygiene are non-existent giving rise to increased deaths of prisoners. It can be termed a lack of a Duty of Care and Criminal Negligence by responsible staff.

The jail hospital is not equipped with even basic medical machines such as blood pressure equipment or oxygen. Consequently, after much delay and deterioration in the condition of the prisoner, many inmates have been taken to State Hospitals.

The abject condition inside the Central Karachi jail is indicative of incompetence, laziness and corruption of the jail staff. They act in complete violation of the Jail Manual 1984 that prescribes in detail the responsibilities of jail personnel. The inhuman conditions inside almost all the jails in Pakistan are a ticking time-bomb for the already deteriorating law and order situation in the country.

There is an urgent need for strengthening security measures inside the prisons. As the Karachi Central Jail houses several high profile prisoners and the jail is situated in the middle of the country’s largest metropolis, the escaped prisoners pose a real threat to the people.

The proponents of jail and prison reforms have time and time again recommended the use of modern technology and software to streamline the data about the prisoners i.e. the date of their arrivals and calculation of reduction of sentence, parole and other matters. The jail authorities on the other hand pro-actively oppose the installation of all such modern measures as these will mean the end to their bribery culture. The Manual Maintenance of records ensures the culture of bribery is perpetuated. It ensures the steady flow of cash, under the table, for jail staff.

Jails are meant to be reforming institutes to rehabilitate individuals who have resorted to criminal activities. After release they must be re-assimilated and integrated into society as a useful, productive member.

Studies have shown that inmate participation in education, vocational and job training, prison work skills development, drug abuse, mental health and other treatment programs, all reduce recidivism, and relapse significantly. The State must invest in all such programmes to ensure that the prisoners are returned to their families and the society as reformed and rehabilitated members who are capable of functioning as a normal human being

The AHRC urges the government of Pakistan to ensure transparent and unbiased enquiry into the matter which can have serious consequences plus the potential to jeopardize the war against terrorism in the country. It is about time that the State realizes the need for prison reform as a crucial part of the reform in the overall scheme of the criminal justice system.