Prisons across the country became overcrowded with about 85,859 inmates, as of Thursday, against the capacity of 36,664 as the law enforcement agencies continued to arrest people in the ongoing nationwide anti-drug drive.
Prison directorate officials said that 13,622 people landed in jail in drugs-related cases being arrested in the anti-drug drive in May 12-27.
They said that the number of inmates was highest on Thursday since 2005, when 73,192 inmates were in jail against the official capacity of 28,668.
The number of inmates began rising in February before Bangladesh Nationalist Party chairperson Khaleda Zia was jailed on February 8 in a graft case filed during military-backed interim regime.
The number of inmates was about 77,500 with average release of 2,000 people and landing of 1,200 people per day in early February. The number reached 80,697 on May 12.
Available statistics showed that highest 4,356 people landed in jail in Dhaka division in drugs cases followed by 2,797 in Rajshahi, 1,880 in Chittagong, 1,455 in Rangpur, 1,103 in Jessore region, 865 in Mymensingh, in 595 in Barisal and 571 in Sylhet.
Home affairs minister Asaduzzaman Khan told reporters at his office on May 30 that usually 15 per cent of the inmates in prisons were suspects in drugs cases and the percentage now became 30 because of the anti-drug drive.
At least 129 suspected drug peddlers or abusers were killed in reported gunfights across the country until Thursday in the drive amid allegations that many of the victims were picked up by people identifying themselves as members of law enforcement agencies prior to the killing.
Prime minister Sheikh Hasina at a briefing at her official residence Ganabhaban on May 30 said that the drive did not begin all on a sudden; it was started after watching for a long time.
An official in Cox’s Bazar district police estimated at least 20 wanted drug peddling suspects had surrendered to the court to avoid ‘trouble’.
As the number of inmates increased in jails, facilities for the inmates and their human rights also were being limited.
Rights activist Nur Khan Liton said that usually the inmates faced multiple troubles due to lack of facilities inside jail. ‘When the number of inmates increased, their condition would deteriorate further.’
He suggested that the drive should be more specific in capturing actual drug peddlers and ‘petty’ offenders could be released for the overcrowded
In August 2010, the government freed 1,000 life prisoners, including those serving multiple sentences for crimes such as murder, to ease the pressure on overcrowded jails.
Officials at the home ministry said that they had already asked jail authorities to prepare a list of about 3,000 inmates serving jail terms for petty crimes to release them in phases to make spaces as the anti-drug drive would continue.
The National Human Rights Commission chairman Kazi Reazul Haque had paid his visit to Khulna jail on May 8 as part of their regular oversight but no visit he made so far after the drive had begun.
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