A singara costs five to ten taka at any food stall or restaurant. The same snack costs Tk 60 at the canteen of Chittagong Central Jail.
An inmate in the prison has to pay for every service - from medical treatment to a place to sleep. Money can even arrange ‘special meetings’ between a prisoner and his family and friends.
Prothom Alo investigations found that a prisoner pays Tk 20 for an onion and Tk 60 taka for a cigarette, almost six times higher than the going rate.
The officials and staff involved in these scams earn more than Tk 700,000 a month from canteen sales alone. And they earn up to Tk 2.2 by arranging ‘special meetings’ with visitors.
A visitor has to pay Tk 1,500 to meet the prisoner in the office room as the mesh in the visitors' room is too thick to look through clearly. Over 50 visitors come to the jail daily.
At the prison hospital, a patient has to pay Tk 6000 to lie on the floor and Tk 12,000 for a bed. Also, a patient has to pay Tk 10,000-12,000 to stay in the ‘special ward’ for a month.
The total 'income' from the prisoners in the jail hospitals is over Tk 2 million. The monthly 'income' from the three sectors is about Tk 4.9 million. However, it often fluctuates.
The prison has a capacity of 1,853 inmates but over 9,000 prisoners stay there on an average.
In March, a report by the home ministry identified 49 jail officials jail involved in the corruption. The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has begun investigating the matter following directives from the ministry.
ACC questioned 39 of the officials last month.
Arranging ‘special meetings’
A certain Salauddin from Kulgaon in the city went to visit his brother in jail, but failed to do so as he could not pay Tk 1,500 for the office room. Expressing his disappointment, he told Prothom Alo, “Even the prison walls ask for money.”
Salauddin’s allegations match the findings of the report submitted in March by the inquiry committee constituted by the home ministry.
Incidentally, the jailer of the prison Sohel Rana Biswas was arrested on 26 October last year with Tk 4.4 million and the Deputy Inspector General (DIG-Prisons) Partha Gopal Banik with Tk 8 million nine months after the incident.
The ACC arrested DIG Partha on 28 July while searching the sources of his wealth.
Senior jail superintendent Prashanta Kumar Banik and jail superintendent Sohel Rana Biswas were his close aides.
ACC questioned Prashanta Kumar Banik, currently serving in Barishal, at its headquarters on 8 August.
The Prothom Alo correspondent found the iron lattice in the prison meeting room is quite thick. It was almost impossible to see though or hear the person on the other sides. The corrupt officials and staff use this to make 'special arrangements' in the prison office room in exchange of money.
A certain Md Aslam, sitting in front of the jail gate on 10 June, was talking to the families of some of the prisoner. In the meantime a woman emerged from the prison office room and handed over Tk 2,000 taka to him.
When the correspondent spoke to Aslam about arranging a meeting with a certain prisoner, he asked for Tk 3,000.
Aslam said, there would be an official inside who would arrange the meeting. He was also seen in front of the meeting room taking money from people on 19 June.
Senior caretaker of Chittagong Central Jail, Kamal Hossain, claimed that meetings used to be held the office room, but no longer.
No place to sleep
New prisoners are kept at the ‘amdani ward’ (for new 'imports' or inmates) upon their arrival. They are transferred to other wards the next day, based on the amount of money they pay. Several older prisoners - Md Parvez, Md Nazrul, Md Yunus, Md Matin, Md Shahid, Md Zahir and Delwar - control the dealings.
The prisoners can get a place to sleep if they pay them Tk 500 to Tk 3000.
A rickshaw puller, arrested for yaba possession, is in prison. In presence of the police, he told Prothom Alo at the Chattogram court lock-up that he was kept there next to the toilets of the Karnaphuli ward as he could not pay any money.
It is the same for all the poor prisoners like him.
Watery dal, rotten veggies
The prisoners said the vegetables they get are mostly rotten, the dal (lentils) is tasteless and watery, they get bones instead of any meat, and a very small piece of fish.
A recently released prisoner, Md Ripon, said such food was hardly edible and they were forced to buy costly food from the canteen at a high price. A piece of chicken costs Tk 80 at the jail canteen which is at best Tk 40 outside.
Prices were lowered after the current jailer Nasir Ahmed took charge. It was much higher when Sohel Rana was in charge.
Jail super Md Kamal Hossain said there’s no scope of charging high prices at the canteen.
He told Prothom Alo that he was not aware of what happened earlier.
No place in the jail hospital
This correspondent talked to 10 prisoners who were freed from the jail a month ago. They alleged whereas the poor and sick prisoners do not get any chance for treatment at the jail hospital, political leaders and rich inmates would remain there even if they were not sick.
When high-ups visit the jail, the jail authorities remove the prisoners who stay in the hospital in disguise of patients, they said.
The inquiry committee, formed by the home ministry, found evidence of corruption by 49 officials including the jail hospital’s assistant surgeon Mostafizur Rahman and pharmacist Ruhul Amin.
After visiting the jail at the end of last month, ACC director Mohammad Yusuf said the jail officials earn around four million taka a month illegally.
Former Deputy Inspector General of Prisons (DIG-Prisons) Shamsul Haider Siddique told Prothom Alo that these illegal earnings won’t stop unless honest, efficient and responsible officers are appointed.
*The report, published in print edition of Prothom Alo, has been rewritten in English by Farjana Liakat and Shameem Reza