Two universities in Iran are planning to offer four-year Bachelor of Arts programs for prospective prison wardens – a reflection of the demands posed by the Islamic Republic’s huge prison population.

Not only does Iran execute a large number of convicted criminals, but it also incarcerates them at a record rate.

Gholamhossein Esmaili, Iran’s chief prison official, has said that Iran has about 220,000 prisoners (in a country with a total population of about 75 million). Esmaili has indicated that some Iranian jails house as many as six times the number of inmates they were designed to hold.

Iran’s inmate population has surged by at least 35 percent over the past three years, largely due to a greater focus on prosecuting drug-related crimes.

Jam-e Jam, an Iranian newspaper, reported that 80 new prisoners enter the country’s prison system every day. Under Iran’s penal code, more than 1600 separate offenses are punishable by imprisonment.

Moreover, hundreds, maybe thousands, of Iranians have been languishing in prison cells for “political crimes” since they were rounded up in the protest demonstrations surrounding the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad three years ago.

Prisons in Iran are also rife with torture and other forms of horrific abuse.

The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran cited widespread instances of overcrowding, poor hygiene conditions, ill nutrition, as well as rape of the inmates.

Speaking of the notorious Evin prison near Tehran, ICHRI stated: “Population congestion is the cause of the decreased level of hygiene and has caused illnesses to be spread easily throughout the prison population. Prisoners are seriously and continuously affected by the lack of sufficient care by doctors. The blankets and linens of this ward were usually dirty and unhygienic and the bathrooms that double as kitchen sinks for dishwashing are worsening the hygienic environment.”

But it is the drug trafficking that is rapidly filling up Iran’s prisons more than any other factor. Stimson, the research and analyst firm, estimates that there are as many as 4 million opium/heroin users in Iran (or about one in nineteen Iranians), with most of the drug comes from neighboring Afghanistan.

The National Drug Control Headquarters of Iran declared drug addiction as the largest social harm and a major threat for the national health and security and the principal hurdle for the country’s development.

Part of the government’s strategy in dealing with the drug scourge is mass incarceration as well as execution of drug traffickers.