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Rights of Prisoners


Mohammed Tipu Sultan *

Prisons have not been high on the list of institutional reforms, even though their conditions demand immediate attention. This chapter highlights some reforms which were accepted by the Cabinet this year, and others which had been recommended by the Jail Reforms Commission. Its description of conditions in prisons points to an urgent need for measures to be adopted in line with Bangladesh’s commitments under the ICCPR and the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.
International and National Standards

Bangladesh is committed under the ICCPR, among others, to treat “all persons deprived of liberty with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person,” to segregate under trial prisoners from convicts and juveniles from adults and to bring prisoners as speedily as possible to trial.

The UN Standard Minimum Rules for Treatment of Prisoners [1] requires states to observe the fundamental principles of security of life, health and personal integrity, non-discrimination in the treatment of prisoners, and to create conditions that allow for prisoners to adjust and integrate into normal community life.

The Jail Code

Prisons are managed under the Prison Act of 1894, its accompanying Rules, and a range of internally issued circulars, notices and orders which together form the Jail Code of 1920. Prisons were earlier treated as punitive centres of confinement and they have remained as such in Bangladesh. Little effort has been made by governments to change these into rehabilitative and correctional institutions. Human rights of the prisoners, unfortunately, has never been a serious concern for the public either. Human rights and legal aid organizations have drawn attention to conditions in prisons which amount to inhuman and degrading treatment and can be a source of violation of a person’s right to life and personal integrity. They have also pointed out that prisons as they currently operate offer little scope for correction and reintegration into society.

The four types of prisons in Bangladesh set up under Rule 2 of the Jail Code maintain different levels of security. There are six high security Central Jails in divisional headquarters for convicts, under trials and detenus, which include prisoners serving life or death sentences. There were 32 medium security District Jails for all prisoners except long term convicts, and 26 sub-jails in district headquarters which offered minimum security were for under trials and convicts sentenced to less than five days. Sixteen thana jails were not functioning.

The Jail Code has divided categories of prisoners into those serving death or life sentences, convicts, under trials, detenus, juveniles, women, and those in safe custody. There is a further classification of prisoners entitled to ‘division’ or special privileges, determined by the ‘status of the prisoner’. Male prisoners are not segregated, so that under trials or juveniles may live alongside hardened convicts. Women stay in separate wards and it was planned to transfer them to a separate jail.

Guidelines for the jail administration are also to be found in the Penal Code, 1886, the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898, the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, the Lunacy Act, 1912, Police Act, 1861, Special Powers’ Act, 1974 and the Children’s Act, 1974.
Jail Reforms

Prison reforms are urgently needed. While Commissions were set up in 1957 and in 1978 to recommend reforms, the process of implementing these has been extremely slow. The Munim Jail Reform Commission Report recommended reforms in 1980, which have yet to be implemented.

In 2002, the Government set up a Ministerial Committee for Jail Reforms, headed by the then State Minister for Home Affairs.

The Committee held thirteen meetings between 2002 and 2006, and made several recommendations. The Cabinet approved the draft proposals submitted by the Jail Reform Committee for amendment of 146 out of 1,388 articles in the Jail Code 1920, [2] and withdrawal of 192 articles. Some of the amendments were to:

  • Appoint in each jail a social welfare officer, with a background in psychology or sociology.
  • Appoint a pathologist, radiologist, lab-technician and part time dentist along with provisioning of medical supplies, to facilitate primary medical treatment and dental care.
  • Install generators to overcome current outages.
  • Construct watch towers and provide binoculars and wireless for improved security.
  • Authorise the Jail Superintendent to grant a higher division (better grade of facilities) to prisoners included in the warrant of precedence between one to eighteen, to prisoners awarded with titles of Bir Uttam , Bir Bikram , Bir Protik , Independence and Ekushey Awards, to Presidents and Secretaries of political parties represented in Parliament, Professors Emeritus and commercially important persons.
  • Allocate one bar of toilet soap and two detergent packets per month to each general prisoner. Previously, prisoners were given soda only. Quantity of coconut oil for female prisoners was increased.
  • Reduce imprisonment periods to one third of the sentence.
  • Reduce by half the sentences of prisoners not convicted for major offences.
  • Not to impose hard labour such as brick breaking or earth-digging on prisoners.
  • Provide necessary tools and skill training in sewing, bamboo and cane work for rehabilitation of women prisoners.
  • Supply additional cosmetics and other items to prisoners in the upper division wards.
  • Provide fly proof nets, television and electric fans to each ward.
  • Increase the quantity of food and improve nutrition of all prisoners irrespective of their status.
  • Improve nutrition for child prisoners of upto six years.
  • Allocate extra clothing for women prisoners.
  • Appoint imams for religious education of both male and female prisoners at an honorarium of Taka 250.0 per visit.

Further Recommendations by the Ministerial Committee

The Ministerial Committee on Jail Reforms, at its meeting on 13 August, chaired by the Minister of Law, recommended that:

  • Sick prisoners given ‘division’ (better facilities) shall be entitled to treatment by the same doctor whom they consulted before being imprisoned.
  • Prisoners granted division may be allowed to receive food and bedding from their families.
  • Separate utensils should be supplied for use in toilets and for food.
  • Prison authorities must justify in writing the use of bar fetters.
  • Bar fetters should be made of plastic and leather instead of steel.
  • No work that violates prisoners’ dignity should be assigned to inmates.
  • Prisoners’ toilets must be clean and hygienic.

By the end of the year the recommendations had not been approved by the Cabinet, and are therefore not yet in force.

Overcrowding

According to the jail authority, the number of prisoners in November 2006 stood at 66,778, which exceeded the capacity of jails by 2.5 times. The number of inmates recorded in October 2006 was even higher at 72,013, which could have been because of the large number of arrests at political rallies and demonstrations. [3] Sixty four per cent of the total number of prisoners were awaiting trial. The number of women prisoners was 2,219 against the capacity of 1,131. There was a decrease in under trial prisoners and detenues between 2005 and 2006.

Since the Upazilla jails were not functioning, prisoners were concentrated in central and district jails, thus adding to the overcrowding. As the information maintained by the jail authorities was consolidated for jails in each division, as given in Table VII.1, unlike in previous years, it was not possible to assess the numbers of prisoners separately for central and district jails. The highest number of prisoners was accommodated in Dhaka Division jails and the largest number of under trial prisoners were in Dhaka, Chittagong and Sylhet jails .

Deaths in Jail Custody

Reportedly, 71 prisoners died in 2006 as compared to 86 in 2005 and 104 in 2004. [4] According to the jail authorities 35 died of illness and 11 of heart attack. Of the 71 prisoners reported to have died in 2006,

Table VII.1: Number and Category of Prisoners in all Jails (November-2006) [5]

Divisions Name

Capacity

 

Prisoners in Jail

………..Convicts …………… Under trials …………….Detainees under
…………………………………………………………………………. SPA

Number of foreign prisoners awaiting repatriation

Total

prisoners

Grand total

 

M

F

Total

M

F

M

F

M

F

M

F

M

F

 

Dhaka Division

(19 jails)

8,231

328

8,559

8,150

264

15,360

593

07

-

27

02

23,544

859

24,403

Rajshahi Division

(16 jails)

5,186

287

5,473

4,382

152

7,298

263

-

-

29

-

11,709

415

12,124

Chittagong & Sylhet Division (15 Jails)

6,965

218

7,183

5,273

119

12,438

407

05

-

144

05

17,860

531

18,391

Khulna & Barisal Divisions (16 jails)

5,714

298

6,012

4,957

170

6,463

244

01

-

25

-

11,446

414

11,860

Total (66 jails)

26,096

1,131

27,227

22,762

705

41,559

1,507

13

-

225

07

64,559

2,219

66,778

45 were awaiting trial. Thirty one deaths occurred in Dhaka Division jails. Four prisoners were reported to have died after torture and one committed suicide. Although post mortems are supposed to be carried out in such cases, there was no public information regarding the conditions which led to a prisoner’s death or whether any action was taken against the jail official who may have been responsible.

Table VII. 2: Deaths in Jail Custody in 2006

Reasons for death

Dhaka Division

Chittagong Division

Rajshahi Division

Khulna Division

Barisal Division

Sylhet
Division

Grand Total

 

Ct

UT

Ct

UT

Ct

UT

Ct

UT

Ct

UT

Ct

UT

 

Illness

11

7

1

3

2

5

3

1

-

1

1

-

35

Torture

-

3

-

-

-

1

-

-

-

-

-

-

4

Heart Attack

-

4

1

2

1

-

1

2

-

-

-

-

11

Suicide

-

1

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

1

Coma

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

1

-

1

2

Old age

-

1

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

1

Cause not known

2

2

-

3

1

4

2

3

-

-

-

-

17

Total

13

18

2

8

4

10

6

6

-

2

1

1

71

 Source: Compiled by ASK Documentation Unit from ten national newspapers

The trend in deaths of prisoners showed a decline between 2001 and 2006 (see graph below). A larger number of deaths occurred amongst prisoners awaiting trial. It reached its peak in 2002. In the last six years, the highest number of deaths amongst convicts was reported in 2004 while the highest number of under trial prisoners died in 2002.

Deaths of Prisoners in Jail Custody: 2001-2006

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Women Prisoners

The Government decided to release women convicts on parole, except those serving death and life sentences or convicted for anti-state activities. [6] A law entitled The Special Privileges for Convicted Women Act , 2006 was enacted by Parliament to facilitate rehabilitation of convicted prisoners. It provided for parole for specific periods to women prisoners who were sentenced to:

  • more than five years, and less than ten years, and had already served 40 per cent of their sentence;
  • more than three years and less than five years and had served 25 per cent of the sentence;
  • less than three years who had served 20 per cent of the sentence;
  • one year’s sentence who had served 20 per cent of the sentence.

The law provided for the constitution of a national committee under the Secretary of Social Welfare to recommend release of women convicts sentenced to more than ten years. Another committee formed under the District Magistrate was to monitor the behaviour of women prisoners sentenced to less than ten years in order to recommend their parole. One Probation Officer was assigned to monitor prisoners on parole. Any one found violating the conditions of parole was to be sent back to jail, and made to serve the full sentence.

The Ministerial Committee on Jail Reforms, at their thirteenth meeting held in August 2006, had recommended that women prisoners be housed in a separate jail. This new jail was under construction in Kashimpur and over 2,000 women were therefore still held along with 72 of their children in otherwise overcrowded jails.

Children in Contact with the Law

The number of children in contact with the law was 1,100 in 2005. The National Task Force on Juvenile Justice representing 27 Government and non-government agencies found that their number had decreased by December 2006. Nevertheless, there were 78 children below 18 years in Dhaka Central Jail. This was despite directives from the High Court, in 2003, making it mandatory for juveniles to be kept in Child Development Centres rather than in jails.

Foreigners in Prison

In 2006, there were 232 foreigners in prison, including seven women, who had completed their sentences. In 2005, there were 292 foreigners including seven women. Of this number, 144 men and five women were in the Chittagong division jails, as their embassies had not arranged for their repatriation.

Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK) served a notice on the Ministry of Home Affairs seeking their assistance for the repatriation of foreign prisoners, and implementation of the High Court judgment in Criminal Miscellaneous Case No. 2737 of 2000. In most cases, it was pointed out, the prisoners could not be repatriated because the embassies concerned could not trace their correct particulars.

Capital Punishment

Human rights defenders and legal experts, amongst others, expressed concern at the increasing number of death sentences imposed by the Special Courts. It was reported that four prisoners were executed this year and 890 prisoners were held in condemned cells, which had a capacity for 83 persons only.

Prisoners’ Strike in Chittagong Jail

Approximately 150 prisoners in Wards 22 and 23 in Chittagong Central Jail went on a hunger strike on 22 September, in protest against irregular food supply, and its low quality. According to a report in Prothom alo of 24 September, about 90 prisoners took two foreign prisoners hostage from an adjacent ward for about 20 hours. Another 72 prisoners of whom 45 were foreigners were taken as hostages from Ward 25. The Inspector General of Prisons went from Dhaka on 23 September 2006 to resolve the crisis. At about 9 pm that day, after the prisoners’ demands were met, the strike was withdrawn.

Recommendations

  • The Jail Code of 1920 should be revised in compliance with the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners and after consulting legal experts, psychologists, social workers and human rights defenders.
  • Amendments to the Jail Code 1920 should be implemented promptly and effectively to ensure rights of all prisoners.
  • As recommended by the Munim Jail Reform Commission a Jail ombudsman should be appointed to resolve grievances and to monitor progress on reforms.
  • All prison officers/staff should be trained in the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.
  • To avoid overcrowding, prisoners held for minor offences should be released after quarterly review of each case.
  • Child prisoners should be transferred from jails to Child Development Centres.
  • The release process for foreign prisoners who have served their sentences should start three months prior to their release date.
  • ccupational therapy, counseling, skill training and advisory services should be made available to all prisoners.
  • Access to legal aid services from Government and non-government agencies should be coordinated and facilitated by jail authorities.

Notes

* The author is Deputy Director (Acting), Investigation Unit, ASK.

[1] Adopted by the First United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, held at Geneva in 1955, and approved by the Economic and Social Council by its resolutions 663 C (XXIV) of 31 July 1957 and 2076 (LXII) of 13 May 1977.

[2] Ministerial Committee on Jail Reforms, Ministry of Home Affairs, Meeting held on 13 August, 2006.

[3] See Chapter 5, p.59-60.

[4] H.Hossain (ed.), Human Rights in Bangladesh 2005 , ASK, 2006, p 108 and Human Rights in Bangladesh 2004 , ASK, 2005, p 62-63.

[5] Computed by ASK. Source withheld.

[6] Ittefaq , 24 August, 2006 .