Prison overcrowding

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Like other parts of the country, the overcrowding of prisons in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province is indeed a complex issue that reflects on the performance and efficiency of the police, lawyers and the justice system as a whole. Undoubtedly, the justice system plays a critical role in ensuring that cases are processed efficiently and fairly, with judgments delivered in a timely manner. However, delays in the legal process can lead to prolonged detention of accused persons or the under-trial prisoners, which ultimately contribute to prison overcrowding.
It goes without saying that like the bench, the bar in KP also has a significant role to play in addressing the issue of prison overcrowding. Lawyers should prioritize the speedy processing of cases and ensure that their clients are not unnecessarily detained for long periods of time. Additionally, lawyers can also help by advocating for reforms in the justice system that can alleviate prison overcrowding. Above all, the police also have a crucial role to play in preventing prison overcrowding. Police officers should strive to ensure that only those accused of serious offenses are detained in custody. Moreover, they should adopt a more proactive approach to investigating crimes and apprehending suspects, which can reduce the number of people who end up in jail.
In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s prisons, there are more than 14000 inmates as at the end of 2022, with a majority of them undergoing trial for crimes they had allegedly committed. This long-standing issue has been raised in the latest report of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP). We have reported on these pages that most of the jails in the province are housing inmates more than the sanctioned number and that the number of under-trial prisoners is more than the number of convicts, which has resulted in overcrowding in prisons.
The HRCP report highlights that the number of inmates, who have been convicted, stands at 2,513, while as many as 11,034 are under-trial. Data from KP Prisons Department indicate that, as against a sanctioned capacity of 13,106 inmates, the province’s 38 jails held 14,079 prisoners, implying overcrowding by 7 percent. Under-trial prisoners far outnumbered the convicted prisoners at a ratio of 4.4 to 1, the report notes. Concerned government officials have disclosed that many poor people are detained in the prisons of the province for alleged involvement in bailable offences because they are unable to furnish surety or owing to slow prosecution process. It is also very unfortunate that many people end up spending long time periods in jail merely because they are poor.
It is imperative for the police and prosecution departments to incorporate technological aspects in its system of investigation to reduce the burden of the under-trial prisoners. The issue of prison overcrowding in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa requires the cooperation and coordination of various stakeholders, including the justice system, lawyers and police. Addressing this issue will require concerted efforts on part of the stakeholders to improve the efficiency and fairness of the legal process.