MOST prisons in Pakistan are a microcosm of the inequitable and exploitative world outside their walls. A probe by the Punjab home department’s Provincial Intelligence Centre has found rampant corruption and bribery in Adiala Jail, Rawalpindi, involving several prison officials. According to the report, around 700 convicts are brought to the jail factory for labour work on a daily basis, but some 200 prisoners who pay a bribe of Rs5,000 each are exempted. The document says that “corruption and bribery are in vogue under the patronage” of the official in charge of the prison factory. Two health personnel posted at the jail hospital are also named for their alleged involvement in corrupt practices. The report alleges that only those prisoners who grease their palms are provided relief/facilities at the medical facility and that bribes of between Rs25,000 to Rs30,000 can buy inmates bail on medical grounds. Further, there are some wardens and prisoners running a racket supplying inmates with food items, cigarettes, cash and narcotics in return for bribes. The inequality behind bars has another interesting dimension: two “land mafia prisoners”, according to the report, “are being provided VIP protocol” upon payment of incentives to jail staff.
This picture of sleaze and malfeasance in Adiala Jail illustrates the extent of the rot pervading our criminal justice system. Indeed, the culture of extreme inequity being fostered behind bars by criminal-minded prison officials has likely made it a powder keg of anger, frustration and resentment. The above-mentioned report recognises the dangers in allowing the situation to continue, stating that it is “likely to have a negative impact on the law-and-order situation of the jail. The inmates, who are poor and cannot pay bribe money to the corrupt jail officials may turn violent… .”. Moreover, those incarcerated in such a sordid environment, probably common to many other prisons around the country, are likely to emerge from their experience — whether after serving their sentences or being acquitted at the trial stage — as bitter, broken individuals. Any flicker of humanity, any hope in them for justice in this society would be extinguished. It is also worth mentioning that several of the jail personnel named in the report were earlier dismissed for corruption but found ways, including through political connections, to be reappointed to the same posts. Officials found guilty of malfeasance must be proceeded against and never given another opportunity to abuse their powers.
Published in Dawn, October 5th, 2022