The jails are made for 36,614 prisoners but close to 89,000 are crammed in
About 43% of all prisoners in Bangladesh, or approximately 37,000 people, are behind bars for drug-related cases. This number alone exceeds jail capacity in Bangladesh.
Of these inmates, at least 5,725 are convicted in drugs cases, and more than 22,000 are undergoing trials, jail sources said. Among them, 35,842 are men and 1,500 are women.
According to Bangladesh Jail authorities, the 68 jails across the country can accommodate 36,614 prisoners but there were 88,722 prisoners in jail as of July 19.
The number of prisoners rose drastically after the government launched a countrywide anti-narcotics drive in May.
Statistics provided by RAB on July 18 show that mobile courts conducted by the elite force handed down jail terms of seven days to two years in drugs cases. But most were sentenced for up to three months in jail.
RAB says it has seized illegal drugs worth Tk550 crore up until July 18. This includes more than 49kg heroin and 82,73,097 yaba pills.
Inmates in the cramped jails are facing worsening human rights conditions. There are hundreds of thousands of cases pending in the courts and there is no telling when the new ones will be resolved.
Rights activists expressed their concerns, saying many of the accused could be innocent, and may have been imprisoned for weeks and months without any access to legal recourse.
National Human Rights Commission Chairman, Kazi Reazul Hoque, said the human rights of prisoners are being seriously violated in the overcrowded jails.
He blamed case backlogs for the sudden rise in the number of inmates.
“The State and all government agencies have to ensure that the rights guaranteed by the Constitution are upheld,” he added.
He advised law enforcement to be more careful when arresting people, noting that a review of the settled cases showed more than 70% of those arrested were acquitted.
“Before they are cleared of the charges, they are imprisoned for a long time,” he said. “No-one should be arrested without any specific allegation.”
Assistant Inspector General of Prisons, Abdullah Al Mamun, said they have been facing lots of problems due to the sudden rise in the number of inmates.
Usually, he said, the jails accommodate prisoners at twice their capacity, adding that the number of inmates was higher than at any time before.
Mamun said in some districts where the drug trade is more rampant, jails have to support four to five times more inmates than their capacity. Many jails are being forced to shift their prisoners to other district jails.
A senior jail official said they fear the prisons will face serious accommodation problems as the anti-drugs drives continue.
When asked how they are managing the current situation, the official said the local authorities were helping them, adding: “But that is not enough. A preventive measure should be taken immediately to address the situation.”
Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said the number of inmates rose to more than 88,000 after the anti-drug drives started. He said the drives would continue until the situation was under control.
He said the government has already taken a number of steps to address the problem, including increasing jail capacity, increasing counselling facilities for the addicted, and introducing rehab centres in every divisional city.