Life of women prisoners in Bangladesh

The prisons of Bangladesh are afflicted with various problems, which do nothing to improve the situation of their inmates. One of the main factors is the condition of the prison buildings. Most of the prisons in the country were built during the British Raj. The cells are small and cramped, sanitation poor and ventilation inadequate. Many of the buildings are dilapidated and throughout the years, accommodating prisoners beyond cell capacity; supply of low quality food; lack of adequate medical facilities; crime; the spread of various kinds of disease; the harassment of inmates; inadequate/insufficient budget allocation, etc. have all added to the slow degradation of the prison system in Bangladesh.

The female inmates in these prisons face the most difficulty. Not only are there a seriously inadequate number of cells for female prisoners, the sanitary facilities are deplorable and there are no special facilities for children accompanying their mothers in jail. Furthermore, lack of proper food and medical attention cause complications to the health of those inmates who are with child.

Dilapidated Buildings: There are a total of 80 prisons in the country, out of which nine are central jails, 55 are District jails and 16 are Thana jails. The central and most of the District prisons were built during the British Raj, with inadequate amenities. Although these prisons were renovated on an urgent basis, urgently required changes were not brought about in them. Despite the expiry of the period of durability of many prisons buildings, many prisoners and under trial prisoners have been living in those prisons under the constant threat of short circuits, wall or roof collapse and poor sanitation. For example, Rajshahi Central Jail was built in 1840 and is now in a very vulnerable condition.

Over Crowding: Even though Rule 129 of the Jail Code states that 'thorough ventilation of the sleeping barracks is of the greatest importance; at least 10 square feet of ventilation area per prisoner should be provided', over crowding is a common phenomenon in Bangladesh's prisons. Very often inmates have to take turns to sleep and some are unable to even lie down due to the packed cells. Rule 847 of the Code states that arrangements need to be made to avoid the confinement of prisoners 'in excess of the sanctioned number'. If the arrival of excess numbers is apprehended, the Superintendent must communicate with the office of the Inspector General to see if the excess can be distributed to other jails. Unfortunately, with overcrowding in all the large jails in Bangladesh, such method of distribution is impossible.

Jail reports do not include the number of children accompanying their mothers. One must remember that women are accompanied by infant and small children. Such inhuman living conditions affect not only the prisoners but innocent children as well.

Insufficient food supply: Despite provisions in the Jail Code, inmates state that prison food is substandard and insufficient. This is, allegedly, due to pilfering of food meant for prisoners and/or the indifference of those responsible for feeding them.

There is also some discrimination between those prisoners who can afford to bribe jail authorities to get more food and those who cannot. However, there are conflicting views regarding food between the prisoners interviewed and the jail police.

In collusion with the higher authority, the suppliers of food send the prison lower quality food for more profit. Besides this, there is the alleged complaint of reducing the quantity from the daily allocated 133.28 grams of vegetables, 72.90 grams of fish/mutton, 77.90 grams of beef and 145.80 grams pulse for the convicted and under trial prisoners by some of the dishonest employees of the Jail Authority. Furthermore, despite the imposed restriction on the supply of food from outside, some persons enter into the Jail with food by establishing a 'good relation' with the police and supply it to their respective relatives in prison. Taking advantage of the poor quality and quantity of prison food and the demand of food for outside, it is alleged that some opportunist, dishonest and corrupted jail officers and employees have been earning a handsome amount of money every month.

Medical Treatment: The Jail Code provides for the position of a Medical Officer, a Sub-Assistant Surgeon and a compounder. Needless to say, the medical facility in prisons is extremely basic and almost nonexistent. Although there are hospitals for prisoners in some of the jails, especially in the central jails, yet most of the jails don't have this as a functioning facility. Furthermore, Order No. 8355P of 25 November 1913 states that all prisoners should be vaccinated as soon as convenient after arrival at jail and booster shots carried out when necessary. Given the fact that a large number of the inmates come from poverty-stricken backgrounds, the practice of relevant vaccinations would be beneficial to them. The insufficiency of necessary medicines, want of full-time doctors, the negligence of the authority, and corruption has deteriorated the health sector of prisons. The patient can hardly get medical service while rich prisoners can be easily admitted to the wards and the promise of a comfortable bed instead of a hard cell floor.

Here, too, female prisoners face hardships. Despite provisions in the Jail Code (Rule 94) that there should be separate hospitals for male and female prisoners, this is not the reality. For example, Comilla Central Jail has one hospital, where there are 73 beds for male prisoners and only 2 beds for the female convicted and under trial prisoners. This is really a matter of concern and regret. There is allegation that although the pregnant women are supposed to undergo periodical medical check-up at least twice a month, they are being deprived of it. There is only one permanent Medical Officer in this hospital. Seriously sick prisoners are provided with the medical service in the nearby hospitals. Rules 1167 and 1168 state that every hospitalised prisoner must be provided with a bed, a proper mattress and as many blankets as is deemed necessary.

Pure water and Sanitation Arrangement: The arrangement for safe drinking water in prisons is dubious and in all probability, ordinary tap water is used in all the prisons of the country. Furthermore, the sanitation system is not up to the mark. Bedsides this. the drainage system is not hygienic. There is, as has been said, not a sufficient number of toilets in any of the prisons. For example, in the central jail of Rajshahi there are only 2 bathrooms for the female prisoners. Although it is alleged that every day a sweeper cleans the jail's two toilets, yet that effort becomes futile due to excessive use of them.

Source: The New Nation, April 23, 2002

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