In accordance with Supreme Court (SC) judgements, PM Imran Khan ordered the release of women that were arrested or are under trial for petty crimes like the failure to pay fines. Considering the magnitude of crimes, prison sentences of three years seem highly disproportionate. As such, the directive to move towards releasing these prisoners is being celebrated throughout the country.
There are a multitude of problems that accompany withholding a large number of women, including those pregnant and nursing, in custody—particularly during a pandemic. The threat of transmission looms as prisons are over-burdened with the responsibilities of caring for these individuals. Since the country has made leaps and bounds towards thwarting COVID-19, to let this become an oversight could have rendered the efforts of the nation useless.
Outside of the practicalities, the fact that countless women have been arrested over menial crimes like not being able to pay fines is preposterous—especially considering that the duration of their prison sentence is an average of three years. The punishment does not seem proportional to the crime. With this realisation, the PM ordered the release of these women and urged social welfare departments to generate funds so that their dues can be paid and, subsequently, they can be freed. This was an issue that had gone unaddressed and unnoticed for far too long. As such, for it to be acknowledged and rectified is a major step forward.
While the SC may have issued an order to grant bail to under-trial prisoners to prevent overcrowding, unnecessary prison sentences is an issue that has been ignored up to now. Now that it has come to light, policy mechanisms to rectify this lacuna can be taken.