Prisons across the country are crammed with a record number of inmates, in some places three to seven times their capacity, as a result of the crackdown on illegal drugs and a “mass arrest” of BNP men over the last few months.
Late last month, the 68 jails were holding 95,222 prisoners against their total capacity for 36,614, forcing the authorities to accommodate inmates in corridors or any other place they can find, according to the Directorate of Prisons.
Under the jail code, each prisoner is entitled to 36sqft of living space. But currently, three, four or even five inmates are sharing that space.
Four senior jail officials have said this is the highest prison population they have seen in their 10-14 years of service. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorised to speak to the media.
The number of prisoners suddenly started soaring in May, when the government launched a crackdown on illegal drugs.
In the three months from May to July, some 42,000 suspected drug peddlers landed in 55 district and 13 central jails, according to prison officials.
In addition, in September-October, police arrested hundreds of BNP men across the country ahead of the party's founding anniversary and its rally in the capital.
The BNP has claimed that as of November 14, at least 10,513 of its leaders and activists had been arrested.
The Daily Star could not verify the claim, and the prison authorities say they do not keep separate records of arrestees who are political leaders and activists.
However, they said about 43 percent of the total prisoners face drug-related charges.
Jail officials in Rajshahi and Rangpur divisions said they were facing a hard time accommodating and looking after prisoners three to five times the capacity. Many are left with no choice but to lie in the corridors although winter is here.
“It is not that big a problem in summer. But keeping inmates outside cells in cold may result in a series of problems,” said an official at the prisons directorate, describing the situation in northern districts.
The Cox's Bazar district jail is among the most crowded, holding prisoners about seven times its capacity.
“The jail shelters 3,800 prisoners against its capacity of 530. Of them, 2,500 are accused in drugs-related cases. The number of such inmates is rising as courts are denying bails in such cases,” said Jail Superintendent Bazlur Rashid Akhand.
Crowded prisons hamper the routine activities and violate prisoners' rights, officials said.
They are also perfect breeding grounds for corruption, said a former high prison official.
Corruption in jails can be controlled through efficient management, which is difficult in an overcrowded prison, the official added, asking not to be named.
Sometimes, convicts who are chosen as leaders in prisons offer undue favour to inmates in exchange of money. A portion of that money reaches some corrupt jail officials as well, said sources in different jails.
With a large number of the inmates being drug dealers, drug abuse also continues inside jails dodging surveillance, they added.
For example, six inmates in the district jail in Cox's Bazar, the hub of yaba trade, were caught carrying yaba pills in their rectums very recently. Similar recoveries were made at least five other times in recent months, officials said.
Asked how they are accommodating the prisoners, Chittagong Jail Superintendent Prashanta Kumar Banik said, “We are trying to manage the pressure by arranging sleeping spaces for inmates in verandas in regular wards.”
There are 9,695 inmates in the jail against its capacity for just 1,853.
He added that four new wards had been constructed to accommodate 800 prisoners.
Contacted, Abdullah Al Mamun, assistant inspector general at the Directorate of Prisons, said some jails had already been renovated to accommodate more prisoners.
Renovation of other prisons are underway, he told The Daily Star on November 27.
In January 2010, a year after the AL took office, the prison population stood at 90,000 in 67 jails against their capacity for 27,000, according to the Directorate of Prisons.
It came down to 75,000 in September 2015 when the combined capacity was 33,430. The number went up again in July this year to 83,350.
(Our correspondents from Chattogram, Barishal, Cox's Bazar, Sylhet and Mymensingh contributed to this report.)