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What is causing prison overcrowding in Bangladesh?

  • Published at 11:58 pm April 9th, 2021
Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

Bangladesh is among the top 3 countries of the world with the highest proportion of pre-trial/remand imprisonment

Eight out of every 10 prisoners in Bangladesh are in jail either as pre-trial detainees or on remand, jail statistics show.

This makes Bangladesh one of the top three countries of the world with the highest proportion of detainees. The prison population is overflowing as the country’s 68 jails are housing inmates twice their capacity.

There are only two countries in the world that have a higher proportion of total prison population in pre-trial/remand imprisonment than Bangladesh — Libya (90%) and San Marino (83%), according to the World Prison Brief (WPB).

The WPB is an online database maintained by the Institute for Crime and Justice Policy Research, Birkbeck College, University of London.

After years of war, Libya installed its interim unity government only this March while San Marino is a tiny landlocked country surrounded by Italy.

As stated by the WPB’s latest update, there are over 71,000 people in pre-trial/remand imprisonment in Bangladesh, constituting 81.3% of total prisoners. Two decades ago, the number of pre-trial and remand imprisoned people was 44,368, amounting to 74.6% of the total jail population.

In neighbouring India, pre-trial detainees account for 69% of the country’s total number of imprisoned people. The rate is 62% in Pakistan and 55% in Nepal.

‘Huge social and human costs’

There are 83,107 inmates against a maximum holding capacity of 42,459 in the 68 jails in Bangladesh, according to the Department of Prisons’ statistics for the month of March.

Lawyers attribute such a high number of pre-trial detainees in Bangladesh to lengthy legal procedures, an insufficient number of courts and judges, and the existence of stringent laws, such as the Digital Security Act which have low rates of bail provisions.

In the overflowing jails of Bangladesh, where every two people have to share facilities meant for one, inmates seldom receive adequate medical attention. The matter is evident from the jail authorities’ own statistics, which show that as many as 29 out of 141 posts of jail physicians are lying vacant while half the posts of nurses and pharmacists remain unoccupied as well.

It should be noted that prisoners in pre-trial detention or on remand (pre-trial detainees) are those who, in connection with an alleged offence or offences, are deprived of liberty following judicial or other legal processes, but have not been definitively sentenced.

More than 2.9 million pre-trial detainees are held in 217 countries, according to the WPB’s last update in 2020.

The WPB stated that the countries with the highest proportion of total prison population in pre-trial/remand imprisonment, excluding two countries with very small national populations, are Libya (90%), Bangladesh (81%), Gabon (80%), Paraguay (77%), Benin (76%), Haiti (75%) and the Philippines (75%).

Catherine Heard, director of the World Prison Research Program at the Institute for Crime and Justice Policy Research, said: “All over the world pre-trial detainees are being held for months or years in prison, waiting for their cases to reach trial or final sentence. The needless use of pre-trial imprisonment carries huge social and human costs, not least the public health risks presented by today’s atrocious levels of prison overcrowding in much of the world.

“There are cheaper, less restrictive ways of ensuring that people turn up to court. Governments serious about safety and justice must now prioritize their use.”