The home minister recently informed the parliament that the prison population of the country is more than double the maximum capacity of 40,944. During a question-answer session, the home minister, Asaduzzaman Khan, told the house that prisons across the country currently accommodate 88,084. Saying that they have plans to go for an expansion, he said it may solve the accommodation crisis. But what about the ongoing irregularities and corruption in the prisons?
The prison authorities are responsible to safeguard the prisoners. Although the prisons are supposed to be safe, murders often take place there. Last year in Chattogram central jail, a prisoner killed his inmate with a brick. In Panchagarh, inmates allegedly burnt a prisoner to death. Following the incidents, the home minister had pledged inquiries, but no results of the probes have been made public. There are serious allegations over the prisoners' food, accommodation or medical services, too. Prisoners are not provided with ample food, especially the nutritious ones are grabbed by some dishonest officers and contractors before these can reach the actual destination. Subsequently, substandard food are provided to these people. Finally, the medical services are present just on paper.
There is irregularity and corruption in each sector. A quarter of prison officials and employees are involved in this. In liaison with the prison staffers, the contractors sell the food allocated for prisoners elsewhere. For medical privileges, there are only two physicians for 80,000 prisoners. Though the government recently took measures for the appointment of additional physicians, it was not effective.
The history of prisons in Bangladesh is replete with sad and cruel incidents. A number of seven prisoners were shot dead in Rajshahi jail before liberation. In the newly independent country, four top national leaders were killed in Dhaka Central Jail on 3 November 1975. During Ziaur Rahman's term, a jail reform commission was formed after an uprising shook Khulna jail. In 1980, the commission submitted a report including some crucial recommendations, but no government so far has implemented those. This is unfortunate.
The issue of fast trial is connected to the jail reformation commission. Most of the prisoners staying in the jails are currently under trial. The number of prisoners will naturally drop if the ongoing cases are disposed soon. Along with punishment, the motto of setting up jails is to correct the criminals enabling them to lead a normal and healthy life, but the prevailing circumstances at the jails can serve just the opposite. The prisoners may become more inclined to crimes in the prevailing environment. A prison guard's involvement in narcotics business leads the prison to turn into a drug haven. Though a few prison guards were punished for drug trades, overall situation at the jails did not improve much.
Militants are kept in separate cells at jails in all other countries in order to prevent the possible spread of militant doctrines. Despite the potential risks, our jail authorities keep them with the regular prisoners on the excuse of space crisis.
Let the irregularities and corruption at jail be stopped and the jail reformation commission's recommendations be implemented without delay.