Advocacy for prison libraries in Pakistan

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Abid Hussain
OXFORD Learner Dictionary defines prison as “a building where people are kept as a punishment for a crime they have committed, or while they are waiting for trial”. The Jail is correctional institutions for the people who have committed crimes and are waiting for court trials. The prison is a place where offenders are corrected with punishment and hard labour. Initially, prisoners were provided religious books for readings like Quran, Bible, Torah, Gospel, etc.
There was no leisure time for prisoners in jails. Different library associations in the world came forward and raised their voices for prison libraries such as American Prison Association, International Federation of Library Association, American Library Association and American Correctional Association etc. Many reforms like American Library Association’s Bill of Right, the freedom to view, the freedom to read, guidelines for library usages, British guideline for prison libraries were initiated. Reforms at global level have been made, but in Pakistan, there is no concept of prison libraries and are worst than other developing countries.
Prisoners are humans and have the equal rights to read and get useful education like other humans in society. A person who does not have an access to right information regarded as directionless, clueless, and visionless. Libraries are the symbol of freedom for entire community inclusively prisoners. Attitude of prisoners can be changed through mosque and other religious institutions, library is the place, where they can forget their sorrows by reading fascinating and informative books.
The prime purpose of prison library is to educate the offenders/criminals. A Library which serves the prisoner in educational needs is called prisoner libraries. A prisoner or offender usually a man, who committed sin intentionally or unintentionally. Law enforcement agencies have established libraries across the world. The sole purpose of these libraries is to educate the inmates.
Several reforms have been brought in prisons worldwide. In many states, heavy budget have been spent in law and justice reforms to reduce crimes. A lush green lawn, rich libraries, medical centres, educational institutions, vocational training have been made part of prisons, but in Pakistan, the prison system is cumbersome and outmoded and present a sorry state of affairs. Prison education involves vocational training or academic education supplied to prisoners as part of their rehabilitation and preparation for life outside prison. To educate prisoners means to reduce crime ratio in broader sense.
Pakistan journal of criminology, reported that there are 99 jails in Pakistan, Sindh province has 23, Punjab province has 22, KPK 11, Balochistan 6, however, Gilgit-Baltistan and AJK have 11 prisons respectively. In Pakistan, the prison system is suffering from multiple maladies; the most obvious in my view are (1) abundantly overcrowded(2) all criminals are resided at one place like terrorists, petty criminal, serious offenders and political convicts, habitual offenders etc.(3) Unwarranted physical punishment is frequently inflicted on the prisoners (4) Medical facilities available in our prisons are deplorable (5) and the last but not the least lack of Libraries.
As per the rule 979 of jail manual, an illiterate prisoner may be imparted education upto primary level. However, for all aspirants, who wishes for higher studies, ought to be provided educational facilities like study centres and well-furnished library in jail premises, where one can read books, journals, magazines and newspapers etc. Remission to prisoners will also be granted by qualifying final exams as per the rule 215.
Currently, there is no organized system for imparting a proper education in our prisons. Prime Minister Imran Khan with the help of law and justice reform may improve our prison system in facilitating the general as well as vocational and technical education to all prisoners. Each prison should have a well-stocked library with books, journals, magazines, newspapers and audio visual material for prisoners. People may also help them donate books to prison libraries. Public and private sector institutions ought to be solicited to establish distance learning and exam centres on jail premises. Education Ministry should be approached to manage courses through correspondence for the jail inmates.
—The writer is working as Library Officer in Institute of Strategic Studies, a think-think based in Islamabad.

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