Prisoners should be treated as humanely as possible according to widely accepted standards
Criminal activities have become major concerns as these seem to be ever on the rise. A number of them get arrested and convicted and such convicts are generally housed in overcrowded prisons without some of basic facilities. At present, 18,000 inmates are housed in 74 prisons in 72 districts which are capable of housing only around 10,000. The Department of Prison Management says that around 17 new prisons are being constructed in 17 districts at a cost of around Rs. 1.677 billion. The Ministry of Peace and Reconstruction would provide financial support. The new prisons, when constructed, are expected to relieve burden of the existing prisons as well as the generally poor conditions under which inmates are living. But the project should be executed without delay. Among other things, the prisoners lack toilets, and they have little space to move around and even to sleep. These prisons were not built to accommodate such a large number of jailbirds. Moreover, most of the existing prisons are in a dilapidated condition adding to the woes of the inmates. To make matters worse, the earthquake of 2015 had damaged the structures of around 54 prisons.
Some prisons even lack accommodation for female inmates. All prisons should have women’s blocks to provide minimum conditions for passing their jail term and to save them from abuse. Therefore, it is welcome that more such buildings are being constructed. Efforts are being made to upgrade the prison buildings. These would help mitigate the problems faced by the inmates and also provide them with tolerable living quarters denied them now. Meanwhile, in its novel scheme the government has acquired about 535 ropanis of land in Banke to construct an open prison. Prisoners who have served more than half of their term and also shown good behavior would be kept here, and they could spend the rest of their term under minimal supervision. The open prison could house over 5,000 prisoners.
Considering the worrying number of crimes taking place in the country, more should be done to cut crime rate. Prevention is always better than punishment. For this purpose, the prisons should also be centers for reform for the majority of the inmates. When the jailbirds are free they may be enabled and encouraged to live honest lives as law-abiding citizens, though some of them are repeat offenders. Therefore, they should be under close surveillance of the authorities outside prisons too. Increasing incidents of crime are to be largely taken as a socio-economic problem. Many people take to committing crime due to poverty and other socio-economic
reasons. The ideal way to deal with crime is to reduce deprivation prevalent in the country. Just incarcerating criminals is not the ultimate solution to the
problem of crime, though criminals must face the consequences of their crime. Reducing crime rates would therefore require a multi-pronged approach, including, for example, handling the problem of joblessness and poverty, apart from the need to equip the law-enforcement agencies better. This is easier said than done. But such efforts should sincerely be made if crime is to be significantly reduced in the medium and long term. But prisoners should be treated as humanely as possible according to widely accepted standards. More open prisons could also help in this endeavour.
Vehicle thefts are about as widespread across the country today as these were, say, a decade ago. According to Nepal Police Headquarters, as many as 1,022 vehicles, which were stolen and found, are still lying unclaimed in various police offices. Of these unclaimed vehicles, two-wheelers number 1,018. This is most probably because it is much easier to steal scooters and motorcycles than cars and jeeps. These unclaimed vehicles were seized in 35 districts over a period of years.
Police are reported to be wondering why the owners of these vehicles are not coming to the police offices along with their blue books and other documents. Police say people quickly come to complain about their lost vehicles but not many follow up after that. It may be because they have given up on the hope of finding their vehicles again. Or they may have thought that police, if the vehicles were recovered, would inform them. Police on their part might also try to find out the owners from official records where all necessary details are given.
A version of this article appears in print on May 22, 2017 of The Himalayan Times.