Locked upThe government needs to fulfil the basic needs of the prisoners
Earlier this year, the National Human Rights Council (NHRC) reported that the prison in Sankhuwasabha has been keeping prisoners five times its capacity. The prison was built for 25 jailbirds, but now, it has 118 inmates cramped into custody. The case of the district prison in Gorahi, Dang is no different. It was built for 50 inmates but currently holds 170 prisoners. All 74 jails across the country are overcrowded. Even as those prisons only have the capacity to house 8,600 prisoners, there are currently 16,000 inmates locked behind the bars. According to a 2008 report of the UN Human Rights Office, titled ‘INSIDE: Prison and the Rights of Detainees,’ the prison facilities in Nepal lack adequate food, health care, sanitation and other basic necessities. Furthermore, most of the prisons were built during the Rana regime, and lack proper maintenance. As a result, 54 prisons across the country were either fully or partially damaged by the April Earthquake, killing 16 and injuring 93 inmates.
Last year, the Committee for Social Justice and Human Rights of Parliament was given the responsibility of studying and inspecting all the existing prisons across the country. The committee, has recently submitted its report, which advises the government to improve the standard of living and facilities in the prisons. The report has also urged the government to increase the daily allowance of the prisoners, which is currently Rs 45 per day, arguing that it is not enough to meet their basic needs. Moreover, the committee has expressed concern that such poor living conditions could make it difficult for prisoners to reintegrate in society.
To be fair, the government has taken some steps to address these problems. The ‘Policy and Programmes of the Government of Nepal for Fiscal Year 2015-16’, for instance, proposes to reconstruct the damaged prisons. The government also plans to build a new central prison in Nuwakot and regional prison in Banke to deal with the problem of overcrowded jails. It has already purchased land in Banke, and plans to construct an open prison—where prisoners who have served at least half of their prison sentence and have showed good conduct are kept with less supervision—which can accommodate 5,000 inmates. But given the dire state of prisons, the government must begin construction to quell doubts that it is not serious about implementing this plan. It should also consider allocating more funds to the Department of Prison Management. Additionally, the government should try to make the prisons more inclined to helping prisoners to give up their old ways rather than functioning as punishment houses. As the government provides opportunities for convicts to study, it should encourage them to complete their education. Many studies have found this to be an effective way to keep the inmates from returning back to jail.