‘Pakistani prisons producing hardened criminals’
By Waqar Gillani
LAHORE: Prisons in Pakistan have become a cradle for transforming petty law-breakers into hardened criminals, Hans H Wahl, a Paris-based non-government organisation’s (NGO) training director told Daily Times during his recent visit to Pakistan.
Mr Wahl said, “The prisons in Pakistan, rather than improving prisoners’ condition, have been stuffed with those involved in petty crimes who find ample time, support and opportunity to become professional criminal. Deprived and vulnerable prisoners, especially juveniles and women without access to prosecutors or legislators or are unable to bribe authorities have to suffer long imprisonment in Pakistan.”
Mr Wahl is the training program director for the Penal Reform International (PRI), an international organisation working on human rights in developing countries. He is working on juvenile and women prisoners’ rights and the judicial system in Pakistan in collaboration with the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and the AGHS Legal Aid Cell. PRI started this project in 1998 and Mr Wahl visited Pakistan to inspect prisons and lockups many times.
Mr Wahl was recently in Lahore to attend a training workshop from August 25 to 28. The workshop aimed to identify problems in adult and juvenile prisons and help the government resolve them. Prosecutors and probationary officers attended the public workshop. Police representatives and judiciary members did not attend, even though they were invited. Commenting on their absence, Mr Wahl sarcastically said one could easily judge how much the agencies were interested in implementing the 2000Juvenile Justice System Ordinance (JJSO).
He said he had observed that many judiciary members including civil judges were familiar with the JJSO “but, unfortunately, police officials said they didn’t know about the law at all.” He said the government should increase awareness about the law and do everything possible to implement it. Mr Wahl said there were many problems in the JJSO. “Prosecutors and civil groups have objected to the punishment of children according to the ordinance. But the key issue is implementation of the law, which is very limited.” Mr Wahl observed that separate juvenile courts were not created, but the government had set up separate desks in courtrooms to deal with juvenile offenders.
Mr Wahl said civilians should pressure the government to implement such laws properly. “They can hold meetings, workshops, and share their views, experiences and observations.” He emphasised the police and judiciary’s role in securing juvenile’s prison rights. “Training the police and public prosecutors is imperative,” he said.
“The renovation of a Faisalabad borstal (detention centre) is a good step, but officials are still running it like a jail and not as a borstal.” He said the management might be excellent, but the borstal official’s mindset, was not conducive to rehabilitating juveniles.
He said he had observed many juveniles being unnecessarily kept in prisons and lockups. “They have been put in lockup despite their inability to pose any significant threat to society,” he said, adding that most of them were kept for considerable time in lockups for petty crimes. “The police wait for someone to pursue their cases or get them released through bribes.”
Mr Wahl said many countries, including Pakistan, had terrible lockups. “But, the problem with Pakistani prisons and lockups is that they have no classification. Around five to seven percent of prisoners are very dangerous and can be labelled high-risk prisoners. The other ninety-five percent have to suffer strict security checks because of them.” He said the high-risk prisoners should be separated from others “so they wouldn’t able to corrupt the whole jail or prison’s culture. High risk prisoners must be kept in isolation because they help turn petty criminals into professionals.”
Mr Wahl said the workshop had generated more than 50 viable recommendations to implement the JJSO and added that similar workshops would be held in Karachi, Peshawar and Quetta in September.
He said the PRI wanted to start a pilot project for training special juvenile officers in the North West Frontier Province. “The project might be implemented across the country.” He said the NWFP inspector general had formally agreed to start the project.