Even prison is not free; some prisoners forced to pay for ‘better services’

Arrested for possession of marijuana, rickshaw puller Abdul Kuddus landed in Dhaka Central Jail in October 2020.

While in quarantine for the first 14 days and in “bad” living conditions, some of the prisoners told him that his life in prison would be “much better” if he paid them Tk 2,500. They settled for 700 Tk after Abdul briefed them on what he was doing for a living.

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The money was paid and Abdul was sent to a room on the third floor of the prison’s “Rupsha” building. After that, he had to pay Tk500 to the service manager and Tk100 to the food supplier every month for over a year before he was released at the end of last year. The money, sent by his wife, a domestic helper, made its way inside the prison with the help of some prison guards.

“Whoever pays that much money is treated better inside. He gets slightly better food, places to sleep and relatively cleaner toilets,” Abdul told the Daily Star a few days ago. “Those who cannot pay continue to languish in the extremely cramped conditions of the prison. Their food is poor and they barely have enough space to sleep.”

The situation is more or less similar in other prisons, The Daily Star learned after speaking to at least a dozen people who have been released from prisons recently.

There is a link between some prisoners and prison guards in each prison and he is responsible for these irregularities, they said, adding that the link takes money from inmates, ensuring them better treatment in prison.

Sources from the Department of Prisons said the 68 prisons across the country can accommodate 42,538 inmates in total, but there were 83,626 prisoners as of February 24.

According to prison code, each inmate must have at least 36 square feet of space to themselves. But there is one prison – in Cox’s Bazar – which houses inmates six times its capacity, the sources said.

A jail room is usually about 30 feet long and 20 feet wide. Half of that space is for 10 prisoners who break the link while the other half is shared by around 30 prisoners who don’t, a recently released man said.

“When we couldn’t pay them money, we were forced to sleep in front of the toilet,” the man also said, adding that he started paying Tk 400 a month just to have a “decent” space for him. to sleep.

Those who don’t break the link are sometimes not allowed to use the restroom when needed. Sometimes some are forced to give foot massages to convicts and ward officials, several inmates said.

All prisoners receive inadequate and poor quality food. The quality goes down when they don’t pay the bribe, they also said.

“You will have to pay Tk 200 if you want to have a real dinner or lunch with fish or meat,” said one inmate.

Prison officials said they give Khichuri or bread with vegetables or sweets in the morning; rice, lentils and vegetables for lunch; and rice, fish or meat and lentils for dinner.

For comment, The Daily Star has attempted to reach IG Prisons Brig Gen ASM Anisul Haque by phone several times over the past two weeks. He did not answer phone calls or send text messages.

These correspondents visited his office, but he refused to discuss the matter.

Additional IG prisons Colonel Abrar Hossain and DIG Dhaka Touhidul Islam Division also did not receive phone calls from the Daily Star.

PRISONER SITUATION

Cox’s Bazar District Jail is one of the most congested prisons in the country, housing at least 4,508 inmates against a capacity of 830, as of February 27.

Forty inmates used only one toilet. Detainees also do not have enough water to wash properly.

As his attention was drawn to the matter, Nesar Alam, superintendent of the prison, said he has taken steps to install two pumps which will supply 10,000 liters of water to the prison every hour. “We arrange for the prisoners to take a bath twice or even three times a day. This is because they are exhausted from being in overcrowding for a long time.”

Chattogram Central Jail had 7,305 inmates against a capacity of 1,885, sources told the Department of Prisons.

AKM Fazlul Hoque, Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of Chattogram Division, said they had some limitations but were doing their best to provide better facilities for inmates.

Similar conditions were found in Chapainawabganj and Natore prisons – which housed 1,011 and 1,012 inmates against a capacity of 175 and 200 respectively.

Superintendent Abul Kalam Azad said the number of inmates at Sherpur District Jail was four times its capacity of 100.

No fewer than 10,174 detainees were in Dhaka Central Jail. That’s almost double its capacity,

Asked about the various irregularities there, the prison’s chief superintendent, Subhash Chandra Ghosh, admitted they had “shortcomings”. He said there may have been “bad people”, including staff, inside the prison.

“But we have strong vigilance, and if anyone is caught doing anything illegal, tough action will be taken against them,” he said.

Contacted on February 27, Sayed Belal Hossain, additional secretary (penitentiary wing) of the Ministry of the Interior, said that he had already taken several projects to increase the capacity of prisons. New buildings have been constructed in a number of prisons in the districts.

Sources at these prisons, however, said only those who paid the bribes were allowed to stay in the new buildings.

[Our correspondents in Chattogram, Rajshahi, and Mymensingh contributed to this report.]

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