A prisoner in Dhaka Central Jail has to spend around Tk 30,000 a month for food and other services which the state is supposed to provide for free.
The amount is more than some families living in the capital spend a month.
A major portion of the inmates’ money goes to the convicts who are given the charge by the jail authority to look after other prisoners.
Those in charge take more than Tk 16,000 a month from each prisoner for the minimum required space to sleep without trouble, the food served by the jail authorities and enough water for bathing and toilet use.
The rest Tk 14,000 is spent on additional food like eggs, fish and meat alongside those served by the jail authorities, as it is almost impossible to keep the jail food down.
The Tk 30,000 takes care of just the basic necessities. Everything else is extra.
Like, a prisoner has to spend Tk 300 to Tk 1,500 to see his or her family, in which one is allowed to talk to family members in a room through a window.
The jail staff at the gate charge Tk 200 for sending every Tk 1,000 to an inmate. So, actually a prisoner gets Tk 800 for every Tk 1,000 his or her family sends.
Each prisoner has to manage the amount to enjoy the minimum rights he or she is entitled to enjoy inside the jail as per the Bangladesh Jail Code.
Horrific sufferings await those who are unable to manage the amount.
The Daily Star learnt these from three prisoners who wanted to be anonymous. One of them walked out of the jail on March 27 and two others in February last year.
“The jail is apparently hell for those who are unable to manage the money,” said a CNG-run auto-rickshaw driver who served one month.
He said those prisoners would be forced to lie down on their left or right side in a row, which is known in jail as hilsa fal.
The designated cell keeper then pushes the back of the last prisoner in the row with his leg to ensure there was no room between prisoners, he said.
An ex-jail official wishing anonymity, however, said each prisoner is entitled to get six square feet of space.
“I saw two youths crying relentlessly for the whole night on my first day in jail, but the jail people were unmoved,” said the auto-rickshaw driver.
He said he managed Tk 30,000 by pawning two gold bangles and earrings of his wife and survived prison.
The driver was among 30 other drivers who were sentenced to a month’s jail each by a mobile court on February 28 in Sadarghat area.
Within hours after landing in Dhaka jail, the process of trading starts at Amdanikhana, a certain cell inside the jail where the newcomers are usually kept for a night and then moved to other cells.
After completing initial processes like frisking newcomers and enrolment of the prisoners, the man in-charge of the Amdanikhana asks inmates to meet him one by one. He threatens them with sufferings if they do not get enrolled for “service package” costing Tk 3,600. However, one needs to send Tk 4,000 inside that jail so that the recipient gets Tk 3,600. The Tk 400 is the commission for the jail gate staff.
A portion of the first week’s toll goes to the Amdanikhana in-charge.
“When my turn to meet the Amdanikhana in-charge came on the first night, he narrated the horrific sufferings of prisoners as far more inmates stay in jail than its capacity,” said a Mirpur trader who was arrested in February last year on suspicion of planning subversive activities to destabilise the country.
The jail has around 7,600 inmates against the capacity of 2,650, he was told.
“How will you get water for toilet use and for bathing? the Amdanikhana in-charge went on.
“I got scared. I was about to collapse as it had already been 22 hours since I was arrested. So, I agreed to the package offer,” said the man in his 40’s.
“When my family members visited me in the morning, the convict who brought me did not allow me to talk to my relatives until one of my relatives gave him Tk 4,000 I had agreed to pay the previous night,” he added.
He was among 32 people picked up from their homes at Senpara Parbata on February 25 last year. His neighbour was among the 32 people arrested and he too gave this paper almost an identical picture.
“My decision to agree to pay paid off,” the trader said, adding that he was allowed enough room to stretch and sleep well. He was also given two blankets, one of which served as a pillow.
He said the cell in charge and his aides who were all convicts ensured him and others, who bought the “package”, space to sleep. He did not have to queue up for food served by the jail authorities and for bathing.
Although it was extremely expensive, when he wanted to buy some extra food, they supplied him.
About Tk 3,000 a week is needed for additional food items.
“Whenever we wanted, we the inmates who bought the package were allowed to sit inside the cell during the daytime. But, those, who did not buy the package, were not allowed. They were only allowed to use the toilets outside which were too filthy to be used and most of the time had no water,” he said recollecting his days in jail.
The jail code, however, says the toilets must be cleaned daily and there should always be adequate supply of water there.
According to the former inmate, around 30 percent prisoners, who are ultra-poor and have no nearby relatives, do not get the “package”.
He said when family members try to visit inmates, they have to bribe the jail gate staff between Tk 300 and Tk 1,500.
The wife of the auto-rickshaw driver visited him seven times during his one-month stay in the jail and she had to pay Tk 3,900 in total as bribe at the jail gate.
The former top official of Dhaka Central Jail said a group of jail officials were supposed to provide inmates sufficient space to sleep, enough food and medicine. Adequate accommodation for all inmates in Dhaka Central Jail could be arranged.
But some unscrupulous officials were inflicting sufferings on prisoners to extort them, the ex-official said.
Wishing anonymity, the former official also said there was no rule to charge any relative for meeting an inmate. There is a form that needs to be filled in and the jail authority charges Tk 2 for it and even that is illegal, the ex-jail official said.
Jailor of Dhaka Central Jail Neaser Alam said the allegations were totally baseless.
He claimed that all those sent to jail were criminals and their allegation could not be true.
The Daily Star failed to reach the IG prisons over the phone for his comments.