Pakistan’s prisons are breaking apart at their hinges. As of 2015, there are 88 prisons with a total population of 80,169. The official capacity of the prison system is 46,705, resulting in a 171.6% occupancy level. Moreover, in Punjab, there are approximately 5,260 convicts on death row but only 812 cells.
By looking at the statistics, it is evident that prisons are extremely overcrowded. As reported by the HRCP (Human Rights Commission of Pakistan), there were barracks where prisoner’s had no roam to sleep and were unable to access the bathroom because prisoners were sleeping on the floor. Death row cells measuring 8ft x 12ft that were originally designed to hold a maximum of two prisoners, now hold more than six. This is in violation of Prison Rule 1978, which states that each prisoner is to be given at least 18 square meters in a barrack and 31 square meters in cells. In addition, inadequate food, poor medical care, and torture, exacerbate various health problems and outbreaks in violence, which at times result in death.
These deplorable conditions would be insufferable for a sane person to bear, let alone, a prisoner who is a diagnosed with a mental illness. If mentally ill prisoners’ are not kept in these overcrowded cells, they are conformed to solitary confinement. Solitary confinement paired with inadequate medical care is a form of torture for a mentally ill person. Those who are kept in solitary can suffer from hallucinations, paranoia, memory loss, lack of impulse control, violent reactions, lethargy and suicidal tendencies amongst others. Several studies show that in a healthy individual, serious symptoms can be seen within only a few days of isolation. Now, imagine someone like Imdad Ali who has been in solitary confinement for the past 3 years while also being diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. The treatment he has received issubpar and the solitary confinement is contributing to his stagnant mental condition.
The conditions he and many others like him have been subjected to are in direct contradiction of Pakistan’s existing laws. It is highly probable that his condition worsened over time because Pakistan’s criminal justice system is plagued with inadequacies and inefficiencies. Instead of trying to fix the system and taking some accountability for the conditions that prisoners like Imdad are warranted to, the Supreme Court went and labeled schizophrenia as a “recoverable disease.” How is it recoverable, when you haven’t given him the proper environment to have even the minuscule chance to improve? What will his execution achieve but essentially give leeway to the prison system to carry on with these heinous conditions.
However, all hope is not yet lost. Imdad Ali’s execution has been stayed until the hearing in the second week of November. This is the Supreme Court’s chance at redemption in the eyes of the International community. It is their chance to right all the wrongs done in the past. Their verdict will not only set the tone for all present and future convictions of mentally ill prisoners on death row but also the factor of accountability in the prison system. They can either set a precedent and act on Pakistan’s international obligations or turn a blind eye and continue to violate basic human rights. There cannot be a more pivotal moment for Pakistan’s criminal justice system then in the case of Imdad Ali.