The country’s 68 jails (prisons) are currently holding inmates almost double their capacity. These prisons of Bangladesh, however, hold the highest proportion of pre-trial detainees among the South Asian countries.
Most of the prisoners are deprived of due rights and facilities due to various limitations, including lacking in the Jail Code and outmoded laws.
The prisons are governed by the Jail Code, which was formulated in 1864 during the British rule.
Lawyers and many others expressed their opinions that the outmoded laws along with the old jail code should be revised so that the jails in the country could be turned into reformatories.
Advocate Kamruzzaman, a lawyer in Dhaka, on Friday told the Bangladesh Post that there are some outmoded laws on prisons and prisoners in the country. One of the laws is the ‘Prisons Act, 1864’. The jail code should be revised following amendments to the law in a way that complies with the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules), he added.
The government, however, has taken initiative to reform the Jail Code and the prison laws to fix the problems with the current system as well as to modernize the prison management.
As part of the plan, the government is moving forward to formulate a fresh law named ‘Bangladesh Prisons and Correctional Services Act’ to replace the over 150-year old ‘Prisons Act, 1864’ in order to bring dynamism and make it time befitting.
Md Mokabbir Hossain, secretary to the Security Services Division of the Home Ministry, said that the Department of Prison has prepared a draft of the fresh law. The Home Ministry and the Law Ministry were involved in preparing the draft. The fresh law will be enacted as soon as early after completing all the necessary proceedings, he added.
In 2018, the-then Inspector General (Prisons) Brig Gen Syed Iftekhar Uddin was expecting to amend the law along with the jail code within the year of 2019. According to him, the amendment would benefit the prisoners.
Law Minister Anisul Huq in 2018 had also said that the government was planning to promulgate a new ‘Prisons and Correctional Services Act’. “This act will put rehabilitation of prisoners at the core of our prison delivery. It will require new and innovative support to build the capacity of our officers, but also to explore partnerships with external actors,” he had said.
Advocate Kamruzzaman said that after enactment of the fresh law, the prison rules would be made based on the law. Amendments to the laws or rules cannot ensure the prisoners' rights unless we can produce a better implementation process, he added.
An official of the Law Ministry said that after enactment of fresh law, it would be possible to develop the prisons as reformatories. “We will prepare Jail Code’s amendments in line with the new prison law,” he said.
According to him, if the fresh prison law is passed, there will be a lot of benefits. Judges will be able to take testimonies of the prisoners from prison and the inmates will be able to talk to their family members over mobile phone.
According to the current Jail Code, politically and socially privileged persons are given divisions in prisons. The code also defines the relationship between prisoners and officers. What kind of food will the prisoners get, how will they be kept, everything goes according to the law.
Meanwhile, the fresh law and regulations were drafted in 2003, changing the laws and prison rules made by the British regime. A number of high-level meetings of the government were also held on the draft in that time. But the law has not seen the light of day. After a decade in 2015, the government had taken a new initiative to amend laws and regulations. After three more years have passed since then, the Home Ministry had taken initiative to formulate the fresh law in 2018.