Inmate at Karachi Central Jail succumbs to coronavirus
Statesman Report
KARACHI: The Karachi Central Jail reported its first Covid-19 fatality on Saturday night, with an inmate succumbing to the disease.
Bahawal Khan, 87, was serving a 25-year-imprisonment sentence after being convicted for murder. He had been ill prior to testing positive for the virus three days ago, and was under treatment at the prison hospital.
According to prison sources, Khan was shifted to Dr Ruth Pfau Civil Hospital after his diagnosis and his family was informed immediately.
A day later, he was shifted to the Lyari General Hospital where he succumbed to the disease. Khan’s son, Inayat, was with him during this time, said prison sources.
Jail authorities handed over the body of the deceased to his family, in the presence of a magistrate after due process. His burial was held later on the same day at the Mowach Goth cemetery in Baldia Town.
Khan, who had been bed ridden before contracting the virus, was a transporter by profession and a resident of Baldia Town. He was convicted in 2012 on charges of killing a man during an exchange of fire in a personal dispute.
Virus hotbed
While the first case at the Central Jail was reported on May 11, over 300 prisoners, as well as a number of jail officials, had tested positive for the deadly virus, as of last week.
The measures undertaken included screening of at least 1,000 people each day, a quarantine facility to accommodate at least 400 infected, and precautionary measures such as hygiene awareness.
Authorities had expressed concerns that the quarantine facility established on the premises might exceed capacity and were in consultation with the home department regarding the possibility of shifting inmates to the Expo Centre or other hospitals.
Infected persons, besides prisoners, included at least 20 staff members and a police official deputed at the prison.
Bursting at the seams
When the virus made its presence known in Sindh, prison authorities had voiced fears of a catastrophic outbreak in jails, pointing out that overcrowding and confined quarters meant that a single infected prisoner could rapidly infect hundreds of other inmates.
In a letter to the Sindh home department, Prisons IG Nusrat Ali Mangan had written that overcrowding at the province’s prisons posed an imminent threat and could lead to the spread of the coronavirus in the cells.
There are currently over 16,000 prisoners housed in Sindh’s 24 jails – which have an actual capacity of 13,500 inmates. Karachi Central Jail has the highest number of prisoners, holding 3,619 inmates opposed to its capacity of 2,400. The number used to be even higher – there were over 5,000 prisoners at the prison at one point.
After the pandemic hit Sindh, hundreds of inmates were shifted from the jail to prisons in other parts of the province in order to reduce the population held at the Central Jail.
In March, the Sindh government and Prisons IG had also made plans to reduce the sentences of prisoners and release a number of those who had committed minor offences early, while the Sindh High Court, too, had ordered the release of 829 under-trial prisoners.
However, the Supreme Court later set aside this order, directing authorities to re-arrest those who had been released, apart from those accused of minor crimes and those belonging to vulnerable groups such as the elderly, women and children.
Out of the total prisoners in Sindh, 550 face death sentences, around 11,000 are under trial and nearly 500 are foreign citizens. Meanwhile, 148 prisoners are in the juvenile prison, of whom only 12 are convicted while the remaining 136 are under trial. Around 200 new inmates enter the province’s prisons on a daily basis, with the potential to infect other prisoners who have little contact with the outside world.