Pass your matriculation exam or stay in Karachi jail – your choice

Published: April 18, 2015
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Boys attending a class in prison. PHOTO: APP

Karachi Central Jail. PHOTO: MUHAMMAD SAQIB/EXPRESS Boys attending a class in prison. PHOTO: APP

On April 14, 2015, 30 prisoners from Central Jail Karachi took part in the annual matriculation exams organised by the Board of Secondary Education Karachi (BSEK).

These exams were the first of their kind to be held inside a Pakistani detention centre. They were open to prisoners of all ages; even though the standard age for these exams is 15 to 16 years of age, BSEK kept no age limit for the prisoners.

Twenty-one out of 30 prisoners gave Level 1 (class IX) exams, whereas the other nine gave Level 2 (class X) exams; all prisoners except one enrolled themselves for arts-related subjects. The one exception was enrolled for science and was taken to another exam centre in order to take his practical exam.

All those who will pass in these exams will get their prison sentence reduced by six months; furthermore, those who pass in the exams with a first class will see themselves move from C-class prison facilities to B-class prison facilities. This means a lot for prisoners of the overflowing central jail.

As per Pakistani prison rules, the prison facilities available to prisoners (all those other than the ones who are either convicted for murder or on death row) are divided into three classes. Class A is essentially top notch; you have everything you would have at home, except for the right to leave. In order to be eligible for Class A facilities you have to be ‘accustomed to a superior mode of living,’ have a ‘good character,’ and you have to be in prison for a relatively minor crime.

Class B facilities are essentially for Grade 19 and above employees; prisoners in here get their own rooms, bathrooms, a TV, a fridge and a lot of other facilities (which sometimes include an AC and a heater). They also get their own cook who is a Class C prisoner. The Class B prisoners also do not need to work, they can sit in their rooms all day if they wish to. To be a Class B prisoner, you have to simply be ‘accustomed to a superior mode of living.’

Class C prisoners usually come from lower income households, stacked in barracks with minimal facilities; they have eight-hour work days and are only allotted the facilities everybody gets (access to the library, gym, school and the likes). They also have to work for the Class B and Class A prisoners.

So the idea of going from Class C to Class B is a very strong incentive for prisoners sitting for the exams. Due to the past judicial precedent, only those prisoners with graduate degrees would have been seen to be ‘accustomed to a superior mode of living’ and hence, to be housed in Class B prisons.

All in all, the conducting of these exams is a very positive move and an extremely great opportunity for prisoners to attain an education, and henceforth, possible future prospects when they are eventually released from jail. Keeping in mind the fact that a lot of prisoners are often very illiterate, which leads to very high rates of relapse to a life of crime once released from jail, programmes like this and the Criminon (a four-step inmate rehabilitation program) are very likely to positively alter the future of these inmates once they get out of jail.

Even though the six-month reduction may seems very menial and minimal considering that a lot of the prisoners have very high (if not, at times, unreasonable) sentences, the idea of providing incentives to prisoners to attain an education is very promising and encouraging. Such activities, along with giving prisoners a potential future, lead to an increase in overall prison morale. They also lead to prisoners spending time positively rather than indulging in negative acts and falling victim to the harsh environments often found in Pakistani prisons.

The BSEK has stated that a teacher was sent to the prisons to teach students who took the exams. They have also stated that study material including past papers were provided for the inmates to enable them to be well prepared. This is very promising as it leads to prisoners feeling more self-sufficient and their self-esteem is improved tenfold, as opposed to their regular lives of extreme seclusion and hopelessness.

To conclude, I highly commend the prison authorities along with BSEK for conducting these exams and I hope that such programs for prisoners’ empowerment continue, as programs like these are much needed to facilitate and economically enable individuals, who will eventually (once they are released) be a part of our regular society.

Hamza Hameed

Hamza Hameed

An aspiring lawyer and an LLB student in the University of London external program at SZABIST. He tweets as @HamzaHameed007 (twitter.com/HamzaHameed007)

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