WE are quite appalled at the news that the country's prisons are bursting at the seams with 87,000 inmates trying to fit in a space meant for only 27,451. This is a horrendous figure and it speaks loudly of the existing conditions as far as jail administration, maintenance of discipline and order, upkeep of physical environment and constant supply of utilities are concerned. A front page news item in this daily on Saturday says that the number of prisoners nearly doubled in a decade while the authorities failed to grapple with the problem by increasing the physical space to accommodate the growing number of inmates.
The conditions of the jails across the country, packed as these were with under-trial prisoners, took a turn for the worse after 1/11 when hundreds of people were picked up and detained in various prisons. One estimate says that the number of inmates increased sharply to 90,000 from 65,000 by the year-end. This no doubt put the administration into disarray, especially when inmates were forced to sleep in shifts and wait in long queues to use bathrooms. Water scarcity and lack of other basic facilities reportedly exacerbated the existing malaise. The other fallout of a crowded jail is criminalisation of the young under-trial prisoners in the hands of the hardened ones when they have to live under the same roof for years together.
We understand there is no alternative but to construct more prison houses and renovate and expand the facilities in the existing ones to accommodate the growing number of inmates. But, it surprises us to learn that while the situation is so grave the planned relocation of the Dhaka Central Jail to a more spacious location at Keraniganj is being delayed because of bureaucratic tangles. The shifting of the central jail to its new location would provide the old part of the city a much-needed breathing space. Basically, we strongly feel the present legal system needs to undergo reforms so that trials of the prisoners can be completed quickly and justice delivered without loss of time. In no way prisoners must be subjected to inhuman conditions in the prisons, which would be tantamount to denying them their fundamental rights. Surely, being in prison does not mean one's rights have been stripped off. We hope the relevant authorities would take immediate measures to improve the conditions inside the prisons of the country.