Prisoners’ Rights in Bangladesh: A Legal Observation With Recommendations

Md. Shawkat Alam Faisal

A legal right is defined in jurisprudence as an interest recognized and protected by a rule of right, and it is any interest in respect of which is a duty and disregard of which is wrong.[i] Unfortunately, the rules of the prison are ambiguous and unspecific. Therefore, prisoners are unaware of their content and unable to ensure the impartial application of their rights. All persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and respect for the human person’s inherent dignity.[ii] The nature and extent of prisoners’ rights have been debated in courts and among professionals for a long time.

The person who is generally confined in jail or prison under a lawful order of a competent court or tribunal to violate any existing law of the territory is called a prisoner. ‘Prisoner’ means any person for the time being in prison as a result of any requirement imposed by a court or otherwise that he be detained in legal custody.[iii] Therefore, ‘prison’ means any jail or place used permanently or temporarily under the general or special orders of the Government for the detention of prisoners and included all lands and buildings appurtenant thereto.[iv] According to the Nelson Mandela Rules[v], the primary purpose of prison is to provide the offenders a healthy environment for reformation.[vi]

The total population of prisons in Bangladesh in March 2021 is 83,107, and the prison population rate is 48 per 1,00,000 of the national population.[vii] There are 55 district prisons and 13 central prisons.[viii] In addition, there are 81.3% Pre-trial detainees or remand prisoners, 3.9% Female prisoners, 0.6% Foreign prisoners, and 0.7% Juveniles of the total prison population.[ix] Thus, the total prison population in Bangladesh is 3.5 times greater than the maximum prison capacity.[x]

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.[xi] The rights of this enormous number of prisoners have become the most defining issue in Bangladesh and the whole world. Nevertheless, the rights and privileges mentioned in the law for the prisoners have not been made available for them. Therefore, proper monitoring and practical measures for the implementation of rights for the prisoners should be taken by the state as well as the consciousness of man may be awakened to raise the voice against the disrespect and neglecting attitude to the prisoners.[xii]

The Bengal Jail Code[xiii] that is in operation in Bangladesh today also draws extensively on the provisions of some Acts such as the Prisons Act[xiv], the Prisoners Act[xv], the Identification of Prisoners Act[xvi], the Special Benefit for Women Convicted in Prisons Act[xvii] to regulate the management of jail establishments, confinement, and treatment of the prisoners therein, and the maintenance of discipline among them.

The Constitution of Bangladesh:
The Fundamental Rights for a human enumerated in Part III of the Constitution[xviii] are applicable for prisoners. Moreover, article 35 for protection in respect of trial and punishment is also applied in this regard.[xix]

The Bengal Jail Code 1864:
The Bengal Jail Code denotes that the civil procedure code[xx], the criminal procedure code[xxi], and the Penal Code[xxii], which relate to the confinement of prisoners, execution of sentences, prisoners’ appeals, and the like, must also be complied with.[xxiii]

The Prisons Act 1894:
Sections 4, 7, 13, 27 – 39 of this act primarily focus on sufficient facilities for prisoners, separate rooms for different kinds of prisoners, employment for prisoners, and medical facilities.[xxiv]

The Prisoners Act 1900:
According to Part IV of this act[xxv], if the Government finds out that any prisoner is lunatic or unsound-minded, it may order his removal to a lunatic asylum. The provisions of the Lunacy Act[xxvi] shall apply to every person confined in a lunatic asylum.

The Special Benefit for Women Convicted in Prisons Act 2006:
Under this Act[xxvii], a prisoner convicted for more than one year shall be entitled to special benefits after serving 50% of the sentence, including concessions. Conditional release of any prisoner[xxviii], aftercare services by the Department of Social Services for the social rehabilitation of a few who have been trained in various trade courses while incarcerated[xxix], vocational training such as block or batik, embroidery, hair cutting, bamboo and cane work, tailoring science, fabric making etc[xxx] will be considered as special benefits for women prisoners.

For the time being, the following recommendations can play a vital role in changing the present scenario of prisoners’ rights in Bangladesh:

At the primary stage, the rights of prisoners must be implemented appropriately according to existing law.
The Ministry of Law, Justice, and Parliamentary Affairs proposal for enforcing the Probation of Offenders Ordinance, 1960, may be accepted and implemented.[xxxi]
The Human Rights Commission, the Anti-Corruption Commission, and non-government organizations should play a vital role in eradicating corruption in prison.
Sixty-eight teams by Human Rights Commission should be constructed as there are 68 jails.
The media should be given access to prison to examine how many rights are being implemented by the authority.
The communication system should be flexible so that the prisoners can contact their respective lawyers and family members.
The prison separation system should be dealt with significant consideration, especially for under-trial prisoners and women.
Authority should arrange recreational activities for prisoners’ mental health.
Prisoners should be engaged in labor according to their physical condition.
Vocational training for both male and female prisoners should be updated to find job opportunities after release.
Sufficient medical facilities should be provided considering the physical condition of the prisoners.
For all districts, there should be a hospital for prisoners in case of safety issues.
The performance of prison staff should be monitored.
The Government should provide training to the prison Officers and Staff for giving better service to the prisoners.
If the Government takes a policy decision to introduce community service as an alternative to imprisonment (bail, conditional discharge, suspension of sentence, probation, binding-over, fines, community service order, compensation, or restitution), a legal framework for the purpose may be evolved by suitable legislation.[xxxii]
Finally, the laws relating to prisons are outdated in our country. Such laws should be amended as soon as possible.

For concluding remarks, bringing a rights-based claim can promote respect for the law on the part of the prisoner by reaffirming their nationality.[xxxiii] Finally, we hope it may contribute to proper order within the prison system by reducing prisoners’ sense of injustice and satisfying states’ obligations under the law.

[i] Fazal Khan vs. State (1962) 14 DLR (SC) p235.

[ii] The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1976, art 10.

[iii] The Prison Security Act 1992, s 1.

[iv] The Prisoners Act 1984, s 3(1).

[v] The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules), Rule 4

[vi] ‘UN Standard_Minimum_Rules_for_the_Treatment_of_Prisoners.Pdf’ accessed 31 August 2021.

[vii] ‘Bangladesh | World Prison Brief’ accessed 30 August 2021.

[viii] ‘JPR: Justice and Prison Reform for Promoting Human Rights and Preventing Corruption’ (BLAST’s mission is to make the legal system accessible to the poor and the marginalized.) accessed 30 August 2021.

[ix] ‘PRESENT SITUATION IN BANGLADESH PRISON SYSTEM | The Lawyers & Jurists’ accessed 30 August 2021.

[x] Ibid.

[xi] The Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948, art 1.

[xii] MA Aziz, MR Chowdhury, “The Present Rights of Prisoners in Bangladesh: Disparity between Law and Practice”, The International Journal of Social Sciences, Vol.20, No.1 (February 2014) p1-3.

[xiii] The Bengal Jail Code 1864.

[xiv] The Prisons Act 1894.

[xv] The Prisoners Act 1900.

[xvi] The Identification of Prisoners Act 1920.

[xvii] The Special Benefit for Women Convicted in Prisons Act 2006.

[xviii] The Constitution of Bangladesh 1972, art 26-47.

[xix] Ibid, art 35.

[xx] The Code of Civil Procedure 1908.

[xxi] The Code of Criminal Procedure 1898.

[xxii] The Penal Code 1860.

[xxiii] AMM Shawkat Ali, Jail Administration access 14 July 2021.

[xxiv] The Prisons Act 1894, ss 4, 7, 13, 27 to 39.

[xxv] The Prisoners Act 1900, s 30.

[xxvi] The Lunacy Act 1912.

[xxvii] The Special Benefit for Women Convicted in Prisons Act 2006, s 4.

[xxviii] Ibid, s 3(a).

[xxix] Ibid, s 3(c).

[xxx] Ibid, s 3(b).

[xxxi] Law Commission, Report on the Reference of the Government on Prison Reforms, Serial No.54 (2003) p1.

[xxxii] Ibid.

[xxxiii] Susan Easton, ‘Constructing Citizenship: Making Room for Prisoners’ Rights’ (2008) 30(2), Journal of Social

The Author, Md. Shawkat Alam Faisal, is a 3rd-year student pursuing LLB (Hons.) at the Department of Law, University of Rajshahi.

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