Jails play a pivotal role in reforming the inmates of a society. Therefore jails are also termed as reform centers for inmates, where they can transform themselves. During their stay period in jails, the inmates are taught the ethics and moral codes of spending a sinless and virtuous life ahead.
Jails are considered as the need of any country to restrict unethical and unlawful activities of social sinners or lawbreakers and provide them a secure environment for leaving their felonious practices. Typically, jails throughout the world are established in a locality with high boundary walls choking the building from every side, there are barracks for prisoners and administrative blocks for the controllers.
However, the notion of an "open jail" might generate an anomalous sentiment in any person’s mind because of the look, functioning methodology, and behavior anticipation of both inmates and policemen in an open jail is completely dissimilar to a common one. No towering walls or grills surround it, neither is it wired with live electric wires and there are also no barracks for the inmates.
Open jail – Badin is Pakistan’s only and world’s second open jail, established during 1965-66 upon instructions and orders of the then President, General Ayub Khan. The open jail was situated alongside the coast of Arabian Sea with approximately 35 kilometres distance from Badin city.
Instead of only being focused on the concept of punishment the Badin open prison system was organized around the idea of improving the inmates’ life. The central government tried to help prisoners in finding a new and better place in the society once they have served their sentence.
There was a fixed criterion for the inmates to spend the last 25 percent time of their overall imprisonment in the open jail of Badin. Inmates who had exceptional track record in previous jails and had also shown luminous morals and were well mannered were also allowed to serve their sentence in Badin.
The open jail hosted inmates who were on the brink of completing their sentences, and were being brought here from various central and district jails of the province like Hyderabad Central Jail, Nara Jail Hyderabad, Sukkur Central Jail and Malir Central Jail, Karachi. The prisoners were also permitted to call their families to reside within the prescribed jail premises, however, they were not allowed lawfully to go away from jail’s premises until expiration of their total imprisonment period.
The inmates were also allowed to build huts for their families and were also given some acres of land for cultivating seasonal crops on the land of jail; and this was the only assignment they had during their time in the open jail.
According to Ghulam Shabeer Khaskheli a retired policemen of Sindh Prisons Department, who has served in the open jail during the years 1974-1975, 1985-1987 as a jail warden, recalls his past and said, "There was about 2800 acres of productive land, which belonged to the open jail but the lack of attention by the concerned department has made the jail a ruin of this coastal belt region. This jail provided a golden opportunity to build additional similar types of jails in almost every province of the country and this experiment of establishing an open jail was also successful but unfortunately the department as well as government authorities did not attempt to carry on this distinctive trend further".
When asked how the prisoners were being treated in this open prison, the retired jail warden Ghulam Shabeer said,
"We had to treat them nicely, even though they were all murderers. Every convict began his sentence in a closed prison, and those who exhibited good behavior were transferred to the open prison. It was known for treating prisoners with respect and entrusting them with responsibilities of work on land cultivation, personal chores, and cooperation within the community. Attempting to escape or committing any criminal offense after release did result in incarceration to a closed prison. Till my last day in this jail, there had been no repeat offender".
Inmates were brought here from different jails of the province in two phases. In the initial phase they were brought through train under the police protection of related jails at Badin Railway Station while in the second and final phase the inmates were shifted through animal carts to the open jail after spending one day in the open jail’s rest house at Badin.
There used to be 600 to 700 inmates at a time in the jail, and to control and administer there were 25 to 30 policemen including a superintendent from the Sindh Prison Police Department.
There also used to be medical staff to provide first aid medical assistance to the inmates in case of any unlikable occurrence. There was also a cooking staff in place for preparing meals three times a day for the prison inmates and on duty policemen.
Every day in the morning, the inmates were sent to the fields and were kept a count of through a group allotment system. The superintendent used to carry out supervision rounds of the jail during working hours and occasionally after working hours while riding a horse, as he had no proper vehicle given to him by the authorities.
The jail was situated on three blocks – the first block consisted of a group of huts, named Administration Block. The block housed the superintendent office, a clinic, a staff office, a kitchen cum mess, and an armory for storing the arms of policemen. The second block was the Officer Residential Block, which accommodated of the superintendent and medical officer’s retiring hut. The last block consisted of the inmates’ huts, and later on they were also allowed to reside with their families in these huts.
The open jail itself had some governmental assets like tractors, pets, animal carts and a generator, as there was unavailability of electricity in the entire region of the jail. The operations of this jail were going on smoothly until 1998 when some clashes occurred between inmates, impacting its credibility. The number of inmates shifted to Badin’s open jail declined and as a result concerned departments closed the jail.
Rehabilitation of Badin’s open jail restarted in 2010 and the jail was set to be functional but not a single inmate has been shifted to this jail till date. However, the staff of Badin remains in attendance and performs their duties without prisoners.
A large number of jail’s agricultural land is barren right now due to shortage of water, effects of sea intrusion, and unavailability of inmates to keep the land alive. Hence, some hundred acres of this land is under lease to local landowners, who use it to cultivate land and earn a good amount of money, which is then equally distributed among the jail authorities and local growers.
In the beginning, cultivation in the whole region was being carried out through ‘Soomra Shaakh’ but slowly and gradually the famous canal of the region has faced an acute shortage of water, which has severely affected thousands of acres of cultivated land including the land occupied by the open jail.
Sindh as well as federal government should kick off sincere efforts to rehabilitate this historical and spectacular system of jailing. It is a part of Sindh’s precious heritage and a monumental place, however, unfortunately it is about to be demolished by the hazardous effects of climate change due to its close proximity to the Arabian Sea.