Although the jails of the country had already been crammed with inmates, the situation worsened further with the influx of prisoners since the political unrest.
As per the prison department’s data, 68 prisons of the country have a capacity of less than 43,000 inmates.
On 5 November, a total of around 88,000 inmates were crammed in the prisons.
The number of prisoners keeps rising sharply as the leaders-activists of opposition parties are being joined by the inmates every day.
Home minister Asaduzzaman Khan on 2 September told the parliament that the number of inmates in the prisons is around 77,000.
The latest data of the prison department shows an increase by more than 10,609 in the number.
According to reports sent by Prothom Alo correspondents, over 8,000 BNP leaders-activists had been arrested between 28 October and 7 November.
As per the jail code an inmate should get 6 feet by 6 feet space in the prison. But this cannot be as the prisons are overcrowded. Maintaining discipline has also become a challenge. The inmates do not receive proper treatment as 68 prisons only have only 6 physicians. The influential inmates, however, can stay at prison hospitals for long periods.
Home minister Asaduzzaman Khan told Prothom Alo, “We can keep 90,000 inmates although our prisons are retentive of 42,000 inmates. So we don’t need to increase the capacity of the prisons right now. We would take measures later if required.”
The minister said construction or extension of prisons is underway in Mymensingh, Cumilla, Khulna, Narsingdi and Jamalpur. The capacity of prisons would increase when the under construction ones are operational.
In reality, it would take time to increase the capacity of the prisons.
Opposition parties apprehend that more people would be arrested centering their movement in coming days, resulting in further worsening of the condition in prisons.
Human rights activists said creation of a dire situation in the prison can be averted by stopping en masse arrest, making bail easy and ending trial quickly.
Dhaka and Chattogram have most inmates
There are a total of 68 prisons in the country of which 13 are central jails and 55 are district jails. Dhaka and Chattgoram prisons have the most number of inmates. Rajshahi prison has the most inmates compared to its capacity.
There are 30,811 inmates in Dhaka. 2.3 inmates are kept in the place of one inmate. Chattogram prison has 17,235 inmates where 2.47 inmates are kept in place of one. In Rajshahi, the number of inmates is 13,598.
Prison in only one division has less number of inmates than the capacity—Sylhet.
According to the prison department, the capacity of Dhaka central jail (Keraniganj) is 4590 but the jail had 10,809 inmates till 5 November. Many prisoners were transferred to Kashimpur prison as the number of inmates shot up.
Dhaka central jail sources said the court had sent 3250 inmates in nine days between 27 October and 4 November. Most of them were political prisoners.
Dhaka central jail’s senior jail superintendent Suvash Kumar Ghosh told Prothom Alo that the number of inmates is thrice the capacity in the prisons. An inmate needs enough space since he is incarcerated.
He said that the number of jailers is not adequate. As a result, the management of prisons has become somewhat tough.
BNP’s senior leaders including secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir and many leaders-activists are incarcerated in Dhaka central jail. The party's senior joint secretary general Ruhul Kabir Rizvi in a press conference on 1 November alleged that the BNP men are going through intolerable sufferings in jail.
He alleged that even the BNP leaders who were once ministers and members of parliament are not being given division. They are detained inside the cell even during the day.
Suvash Kumar Ghosh told Prothom Alo about this allegation, “We are providing division to those who are eligible…We are not torturing anyone.”
According to Kashimpur high security central jail authorities, there are around 2500 prisoners currently in this jail which has the capacity of 1,000.
Jail superintendent Subrata Kumar Bala told Prothom Alo that there should be one prisoner in each cell of the high security prison but the number of prisoners is more than twice. As a result, 2-3 inmates are kept in each cell.
“We don’t have enough manpower to ensure the security of inmates, nor do we have enough physicians,” he added.
Female inmates are also in a tight spot in the prison. Kashimpur prison has a capacity of 200 female inmates while 621 prisoners are incarcerated there.
Most are under trial prisoners
Of the total inmates, around 67,000 are under trial inmates which is 76 per cent of total prisoners. Many of them are incarcerated for a long time as they cannot secure bail. Meanwhile, many accused in murder cases get bail.
For example, Jagannath University student Khadizatul Kubra was arrested on 27 August 2022 in a case filed under Digital Security Act. She has not secured bail yet, also her trial is not finished.
On the other hand, Lakshmipur-1 constituency’s former lawmaker MA Awal, who is accused in murder of Shahinuddin (33) in broad daylight in Mirpur, secured bail. Police Bureau of Investigation (PBI) in the charge sheet said the murder was committed at the behest of Awal. He has now formed an alliance which wants to stay with the government.
Supreme Court lawyer Shahdeen Malik told Prothom Alo, “In any country where democracy and rule of law are in place, a person’s incarceration starts after proven guilty by the court. But one-third of the inmates in Bangladesh languish in jail while the case is still under trial. This happens because there is no rule of law here, democracy barely exists here.”
About en masse arrest of opposition leaders-activists and not getting bail, Shahdeen Malik said it cannot be denied that the criminal justice system has become a tool for politics here.
Only 6 physicians in 68 prisons
There are a total of 141 posts of physicians in 68 prisons but only six physicians are currently in place. As a result, the inmates don’t avail proper treatment. Prison physicians said many inmates are suffering from various complex diseases such as tuberculosis, diabetes, kidney and liver related complications.
Dhaka central jail’s physician Mahmudul Hasan (recently transferred to Cumilla) said around 500-600 inmates came to him with various complications on Sunday morning. Some of them even need dialysis for kidney disease.
He said ‘VIP’ prisoners can avail treatment facilities in some hospitals outside prison but most of the common prisoners don’t have such luck. The physicians also struggle if the number of prisoners shot up.
Mahmudul Hasan further said the number of patients is usually more in prisons for lack of proper light and ventilation.
Sources said there are no gynecology specialists in the prisons.
‘Human rights abused in our prisons’
As per the website of the prison department, the vision of the authorities is to keep the inmates safe and show them the way of light. The mission of the department is to look after the prisoners with humanity, proper management of prisoners in all aspects such as accommodation, food, treatment, training and motivating them in the light of correctional approach for their rehabilitation in the society as a good citizen of the country.
The National Human Rights Commission former chairman Kazi Reazul Hoque was asked how can the inmates be ‘rehabilitated to society’ while keeping them incarcerated in such a sorry state.
He replied to Prothom Alo that although prison is a correctional facility, in our prisons human rights are being abused and inmates are living in dire conditions. Situation has now worsened.
He mentioned the plight he saw during visits to the prisons and said no services are available in due standards as the number of inmates increases.
*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print and online edition, has been rewritten in English by Galib Ashraf.