Inmates in Bangladesh to get pillows for the first time in 230 years of jail history

DHAKA (THE DAILY STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - After 230 years of using blankets as a substitute for pillows, inmates are going to get cotton pillows to sleep on for the first time in the history of jails in Bangladesh.

Since 1788, when a "criminal ward" was built in Dhaka on Nazimuddin Road, which was later turned into Dhaka Central Jail, prisoners would not be given pillows to rest their heads on. This practice was adopted by every jail in the country.

Instead, they would be given three blankets, a plate and a bowl to live in jail as per the prison provision services, Assistant Inspector-General for Admin Abdullah Al Mamun of prison directorate told The Daily Star.

The prisoners would use one blanket as a bed spread, one to cover their body while sleeping, and the remaining one would be folded and used as a substitute for a pillow.

Previously, cotton pillows and mosquito nets were only allowed for prisoners who had division-facilities or were admitted to hospital for health reasons, said Assistant Inspector-General Mamun, adding that pillows were not allowed for general prisoners.

However, that is set to change as inmates in all prisons will be given pillows from October onwards, according to prison authorities.

Inspector-General of Prisons Syed Iftekhar Uddin told The Daily Star that they had taken the initiative to arrange for pillows for each prisoner as it was necessary for a sound sleep. If anyone failed to sleep properly, it would create psychological complications and the person might not able to work properly, he said.

He added that the initiative of providing pillows to prisoners was part of turning jails into correctional centres.

"We have already purchased some pillows in the last fiscal year after receiving approval from the home ministry and are buying some more this year," he said.

Primarily, pillows would be distributed among the prisoners of major jails and would gradually be distributed in all jails, he said.

At present, there are around 76,000 prisoners in 68 jails across the country, Central Jail officials informed.

Earlier in 2007-08, jail authorities tried to arrange for pillows for inmates, but the initiative did not come to fruition after fears that inmates might lock into clashes over pillows or use it for suffocating others to death.

However, a former high official of prison directorate requesting anonymity told The Daily Star that the idea was completely baseless as he believed prisoners would never fight over pillows.

The government has taken a great initiative, he said, adding that prison authorities needed to make sure the pillows were clean and washed regularly once distribution was over.

They also needed to check whether any prisoner was using the pillows for criminal activities, like hiding narcotics or mobile phones.

The pillows were bought through tenders.

Jail officials said that the prison directorate has already bought 16,420 pillows at a price of 300 taka (S$5) each, including covers, and the companies providing the pillows are supposed to provide a one-year damage warranty.

They would buy 64,000 more pillows in the current fiscal year in two phases, while 50,355 pillows are to be bought and delivered within the next three months, they said.