There are around 83,000 inmates in the jails across the country but only four physicians for them. Though the VIP inmates avail medical treatment from facilities outside the jail, most of the general inmates do not get proper medical care
As a result, the jail inmates are being subjected to a sort of “punishment” or falling victim to “torture”. Sometimes the inmates have been dying because of this lack of medical care while there were incidents of committing suicide inside the jail as well.
Jail officials said if the physicians are “sent on deputation” or “attached to any jail” to provide medical care to the inmates there, they do not want to stay there. The physicians are not even joining if the health ministry appoints them to the jails.
The physicians, however, said the posts of a physician in jail do not have promotions and there are no facilities there. Besides, there is always a mental conflict with the jail authorities. That’s why the physicians do not want to work there.
Prothom Alo talked to the authorities of 10 jails in the country. The inmates in almost all of the jails have been passing days in subhuman conditions both mentally and physically. They do not get proper medical care at all.
As per the rules, every jail is supposed to have at least one psychiatrist but not a single psychiatrist was found there. But the jailed patients need regular counselling and specialised medical care.
There are no specialised physicians for the specially abled inmates. There is not even any gynaecologist or specialised physician for around 3,000 female inmates in the jails.
All of us who work in BCS cadre dream to be a specialist or surgeon. Ego problems also arise as no BCS cadre is there in jails in general. The physicians do not any facility. That’s why nobody wants to work at prison hospitals
In such a context, the inmates are being transferred to any local or specialised hospital when they fall ill. This is hampering their security.
Speaking to Prothom Alo, home minister Asaduzzaman Khan said, “We have been requesting the health ministry in this regard for long. Now we are thinking of recruiting physicians by forming a unit for this purpose.”
137 out of 141 posts vacant
The aggregated capacity of all the jails in the country is 42,626 but the number of current inmates is 82,766, nearly double of the capacity. Almost half of the inmates have been suffering from tuberculosis, typhoid, diabetes and various kidney and liver diseases. They need regular medical care. But there is only four approved physicians to treat them.
There are 13 central and 55 district jails in Bangladesh and the number of approved posts of physicians for the 68 jails is 141. Among them, 137 posts are vacant for long. The jail officials said they are forced to take the dangerous inmates to hospitals outside almost every day due to shortage of prison physicians.
Dhaka central jail sources said there is only one physician for nearly 10,000 prisoners at the jail. There is a 200-bed hospital at Kashimpur central jail in Gazipur. There is also just one physician there.
Speaking to Prothom Alo, physicians said a physician (BCS cadre) has to work under a deputy jailer or jailer. They do not get much chance for higher education if they work at jails. That’s why physicians do not want to work as prison doctors.
Besides, if any prisoner falls ill, a “non-medical person” at the jail decides whether the patient would be sent to hospital or not. No physician wants to comply with that.
It can’t even be thought that the state would spend money for the prisoners in the country where poor people have no rights
Physician Mahmudul Hasan has been working on deputation at Dhaka central jail for the last five years. Speaking to Prothom Alo, he said he is alone working in the jail. Around 300-400 inmates visit him with various diseases. Those include dialysis, TB and AIDS patients. There is no lab or equipment at the jail. That’s why no one can be given proper medical care, he added.
Mahmudul Hasan also said Dhaka central jail has a 172-bed hospital but there is no physician, ward boy, radiologist or technologist. How would this hospital run? There are about 400 inmates who need to get admitted to the hospital but it is not being possible to provide them more than primary medical treatment.
Shamim Reza, who works at Chattogram central jail, told Prothom Alo, “The prisoner capacity of this jail is nearly 2,500 but the number of inmates here is over three times of the capacity. Though there were supposed to be two physicians here, there was no one. I was transferred here from Dhaka. I check almost 250 inmate patients everyday alongside the staff. There is no equipment, except the ECG machine, for routine check-ups at the hospital.”
In answer to a question on why the physicians do not want to stay at prison hospitals, he said, “The post has no prospect of promotions. I’m not getting promoted, not being able to take training or practice outside.”
Cumilla central jail physician Sarwar Reza also said the same. He said, “All of us who work in BCS cadre dream to be a specialist or surgeon. There is a matter of prestige too as no BCS cadre is there at the jails in general. The physicians do not any facilities. That’s why nobody wants to work at prison hospitals.”
There is no physician in jails except that of Kernaiganj and Kashimpur in Dhaka, Chattogram and Cumilla. Attached physicians, pharmacists, and nurses provide medical care at the 64 prison hospitals around the country
Sarwar also said there is only one physician for 2,500 inmates at Cumilla jail. It is not possible to provide healthcare to patients this way.
There is no physician in jails except that of Kernaiganj and Kashimpur in Dhaka, Chattogram and Cumilla. Attached physicians, pharmacists, and nurses provide medical care at the 64 prison hospitals around the country.
Deaths and suicides at prisons
Many inmates died because of lack of proper treatment on time, said experts. There were incidents of suicide as well. Lawyer Palash Kumar Roy died of burn injuries at Panchagarh jail in 2019. Though the judicial inquiry said he committed suicide, his family rejected the report. Writer Mushtaq Ahmed died at Kashimpur High Security jail in the night of 25 February, 2021. Investigation report said he died of heart disease.
Death row prisoner Golam Mostafa died at Kashimpur High Security jail in June this year. This investigation also report said he committed suicide by hanging him from a ventilator rod in the prison’s washroom.
On 8 September, Afaz Uddin, 20, died at Kashimpur central jail-1. He had fallen ill on the previous night. Failing to provide proper medical care at the hospital, the prison authority took him to Shaheed Tajuddin Ahmad Medical College Hospital. The physician there pronounced him dead on arrival.
Though the jail authorities claimed the deaths normal, various rights bodies, their families and general people think the prisoners died either as they did not get proper medical care or because of the jail authority’s indifference.
Speaking to Prothom Alo, Mizanur Rahman, former chairman to National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), said, “It can’t even be thought that the state would spend money for the prisoners in the country where poor people have no rights.”
Mizanur Rahman also said no one has any concern for the prisoners. There is huge mismanagement in every sector including food, healthcare, accommodation.
* The report, originally published in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo, has been rewritten for English edition by Shameem Reza