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COVID-19 and Prisoners of Karachi

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By: Haris Jadoon

More than a year has passed since the arrival of Coronavirus (COVID19) pandemic and it doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon.

From the very first nationwide lockdown imposed on March 24, 2020 to the latest smart lockdown of March 15, 2021, various measures have been taken to prevent the curb of virus. Pakistan has suffered less casualties compared to other densely populated countries however the social and financial repercussions have been much severe.

The pandemic has hit every segment of the society but the prisoners confined in jails of the country have been jolted the most. Karachi, Pakistan’s most populous city has the highest number of prisoners in Pakistan. According to the Sindh Prisons’ estimates in December 30, 2020, there are approximately 9640 prisoners in four prisons of Karachi i.e. Central Prison (4,218), District Prison and Correctional Facility, Malir (5,152), Women Prison (134), Youthful Offenders’ Industrial School Karachi (136).

In March 2020, Sindh High Court ordered the release of under-trial prisoners confined due to petty crimes, to reduce burden on the jails.

However, the Supreme Court on March 30, 2020, reversed this decision and halted the release of prisoners.

This further overcrowded the prisons who are already housing the prisoners beyond their capacity.

Unfortunately this scenario makes prisoners extremely vulnerable toward outbreaks of epidemics and infections.

The prisoners sleep in loaded halls commonly known as barracks where a single infected person can infect at least 100 others.

Such instance occurred in May 2020 in Central Prison Karachi where more than 900 people got infected within a month. During the complete lockdown, the courts halted their proceedings which meant that under-trails prisoners, who were hopeful of getting acquittal within couple of hearings hearing had to wait for 3 months.

As soon as the lockdown began, all kinds of visitors including family members were barred from visiting the prisoners.

However these measures didn’t give the desired result as the courts and prison staff had to face extra workload as soon as the lockdown was lifted.

Currently, COVID-19 vaccination is talk of the town but one can safely assume that prisoners will be of least consideration while prioritizing the recipients.

The stigma associated with prisons is immense and significant portion of the society doesn’t give any chance to prisoners.

However we need to be mindful of the fact that being in prison doesn’t equate to being declared a criminal.

In Pakistan more than 80% of prisoned population consists of under-trial prisoners including those detained under minor and bailable offences but have to wait due to long and slow nature of trial system in Pakistan.

A considerable amount of these prisoners is acquitted without any charges. However one night spent in jail scares them for life.

If they are not carted properly, the prisoners are bound to come under great stress which can have serious consequences on their mental and physical health during and post confinement.

Such situation will push them further towards crime.

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