A mysterious increase in deaths of inmates in Camp Jail has been witnessed with six prisoners having died in past two weeks.
Two prisoners died in a hospital on Sunday. Sarfaraz, a resident of Kot Radha Kishan, was reportedly admitted to Lahore Services Hospital with a head injury. The other deceased, identified as Abdus Salam, was shifted to the hospital after is health deteriorated. Another prisoner of the same jail, Ali Akbar, a resident of Gujranwala, had died on Saturday. He reportedly had been suffering from a chronic illness. Two days earlier, an inmate, Fazal Mehmood, had died in a hospital. On November 30, two prisoners had died. They were identified as Ejaz, 42, and Sabir, 17.
A prisons department official said in reply to a question that severity of medical problems increased in the winter due to harsh weather and lack of adequate facilities. “Unfortunately, our jails do not have a central temperature control system,” he said.
There was a shortage of warm clothes for the weak inmates due to corruption as well insufficient supply, he said. “A prisoner cannot have as many warm clothes as he would at home,” he said.
“The jails in Punjab are similar for the weak and poor to the roads for the homeless. When the nature turns harsh, there life becomes miserable,” he added.
The official said the number of unclaimed bodies found on the roads of Lahore on hot days of May, June and July, as well as cold nights of December, January and February was higher.
“The recent spike in deaths in prisons of Punjab shows the same trend,” the official added.
The weather had changed in Lahore in recent weeks and an increase in patients in clinics and hospitals had also been observed with the dropping temperature.
In jails, only the resourceful or severely ill could access the scant medical facilities available, while those complaining of seasonal or minor illnesses were ignored, he added.
“However, this does not mean that prisoners did not die in other seasons,” he added.
As many 47 prisoners had died at Camp Jail during the ongoing year, he added. For example, on October 19, Azmat Ali, 22, a resident of Ghaziabad, and on October 11, Daud Maseeh, had died.
The official said the number of inmates’ death during the year throughout the province was over 200.
Another factor in the plight of prisoners is that the jails in Punjab are overcrowded. A report submitted by the prisons department before Lahore High Court in February revealed that the number of prisoners in the province was 50,578, while the capacity of the prisons was 36,806. This led to poor hygienic conditions and load on the health facilities, resulting in poor health conditions and casualties, the official added.
The executive director of the Centre for Social Justice, Peter Jacob, said while speaking to The Express Tribune that the death toll showed the need for a fact finding mission about the living conditions of the prisoners.
“A thorough investigation to ascertain if the deaths were due to living conditions or outbreak of coronavirus , dengue fever or any other reason are necessary, he said.
To mitigate the issues, the Punjab government allocated Rs7.01 billion budget for prisons this year.
Provincial Prisons Minister Fayyazul Hassan Chohan had held a meeting on November 19 about administrative matters of Punjab Prisons Foundation and discussed the progress on provision of facilities to the prisoners.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 14th, 2021.