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Experts call for reforms in Nepal's prisons

by Bibbi Abruzzini

KATHMANDU, Nov. 10 (Xinhua) -- Experts have urged the government to upgrade prison facilities and invest in rehabilitation programs for inmates in Nepal, as the conditions of thousands of prisoners in the country have deteriorated.

"Detention facilities in Nepal do not meet basic safety standards. If there is an earthquake, most prisons will collapse," Gobinda Mani Bhurtel, chief of the Central Jail in Kathmandu said in an exclusive interview with Xinhua over the weekend.

Representatives from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Nepal (OHCHR-Nepal) have pointed out the inhuman conditions inside detention cells where both the inmates and prison personnel have to cope up on a daily basis.

"In most prisons across Nepal, international standards on the separation of petty criminals from hardcore ones, convicts from accused, and young inmates from adults are not respected," OHCHR- Nepal reported.

Following a visit to various prisons across the country last week, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) urged the authorities to improve prison management to protect the rights of prisoners.

"Several commissions that were formed in the past have recommended measures to improve the safety and well-being of inmates. Had these recommendations been acted upon, jails in Nepal would have reached international standards," said Sudeep Pathak, NHRC member.

According to Bhurtel, over the last few years, the overall condition in prisons in Nepal has worsened.

Bhurtel underscored the importance of treating inmates as human beings, adding that there is a need to improve their living conditions both during their incarceration and after they are released.

"While they are under detention, inmates should be taught some skills so that when they get out of prison, they can earn a living and would not commit crimes anymore," Bhurtel said.

Most of the prisons in Nepal were built during the Rana regime( 1846-1951) and only few renovations or improvements have been carried out.

Overcrowding has been identified as a major problem in Nepal's jails. According to the Department of Prison Management, all 74 prisons across the country are overcrowded. Statistics reveal that prisons with a capacity of just 10,000 inmates have more than 20, 000 inmates or double their holding capacities.

A jail located close to the popular Annapurna circuit has recently been termed 'a torture house'. Human rights watchdogs found 520 inmates 'packed like sardines' in a space meant for only 60 people. Inmates cannot even stretch their legs to sleep and there are only seven toilets for males, and three for females.

Overcrowding often results in tension and fighting among inmates. It is also the cause of diseases, especially respiratory ailments.

A former prisoner, nicknamed "Pilot" by his gang, told Xinhua that when he was in prison, he used to share his detention ward with some one hundred other prisoners.

"Pilot," who is in his thirties, was sentenced to five months in prison after seriously injuring a man during a gang fight in his neighborhood. He was jailed at the Central Jail in Kathmandu, which has a capacity of only 1,200 but was housing more than 2,500 inmates when "Pilot" was there.

A typical day at the Central Jail begins with a wake-up call at 6.00 am. Inmates, divided into small groups of 10 to 15 people, cook for themselves. They receive a daily allowance of 45 Nepali rupees (about 0.45 US dollars) and 700 grams of rice. In the morning and afternoon, inmates are brought to the prison yard or to some indoor facilities where they take part in various rehabilitation programs.

The Central Jail has only 22 employees that attend to 2,527 inmates. Because of lack of funds and inadequate prison personnel, the prisoners themselves have created their own internal management system to help in maintaining order inside the prison facility.

Experts recognized the need to improve the professional skills of prison staff to avoid internal conflicts. They acknowledged that prison staff lacks the proper training, particularly on how to impose discipline among the inmates or teach them some skills as part of their rehabilitation.

Experts believe that Nepal needs prison reforms that would include a prison facility that should be exclusive to vulnerable groups such as women, children, foreigners, and those suffering from serious diseases.

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