Number of Muslims, Dalits under detention and in prison without being charged remains high

Prisons are integral to society as they serve as institutions to detain individuals who have violated the law. The effectiveness of the criminal justice system and the possibility of prisoner rehabilitation hinge on factors like prison conditions, infrastructure, and the reforms within the system. It also depends to a great extent on how fair and efficient is the incarceration process.

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Former Supreme Court judge Justice Madan B Lokur has recently stated clearly that the unwillingness of the judiciary to see through the designs of probe agencies like filing incomplete charge sheets and not providing documents just to keep accused in jail is “most unfortunate.”

In an atmosphere of fear, those who do not have access to expensive lawyers are at a major disadvantage when picked up by the law and order agencies, many of whom are increasingly getting politicised. When the security agencies become partisan the responsibility of the courts becomes even more critical, especially where imprisonment is concerned. The standing report committee on ‘Prison – Conditions, Infrastructure, and Reforms’ rightly pointed out that many of the prisons in India grapple with challenges like overcrowding, resulting in scarce resources, compromised living conditions, poor healthcare, sanitation, mental health facilities, a high number of under-trials, inadequate prison staffing, inadequate education and vocational training.

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These issues are an obstacle to the reformation and reintegration of inmates into society; hence continuing the cycle of crime. Moreover, reports of human rights violations, abuse, and violence inside this institution raise significant concerns about the well-being of the prisoners. The report has presented recommendations across diverse areas like overcrowding, women prisoners, young offenders, prison staff, staff training, sanitation and health facilities, etc. Furthermore, they have highlighted various policies that states across India have undertaken to bring positive change to prison institutions.

Various efforts taken by the Telangana state government have been recognized and recommended to be replicated in other states/UTs. For women prisoners with children, special scholarships are provided to meritorious children. For young offenders, Borstal schools are established with the aim of care and rehabilitation of juveniles. In Telangana, one such school was established in the Nizamabad district. These efforts, while extremely commendable, do not ensure that those arrested are charge sheeted quickly, bailed out as soon as possible and given sensitive treatment while in Jail.

Regarding the provision of health care facilities, in Telangana, every prisoner who stays in prison for more than seven days in prison goes through a full health checkup, because of which prisoners in Telangana have considerably reduced. Additionally, under the Kanti Velugu scheme (blindness-free programme), centres were opened to provide the prisoners with the facilities. For instance, a centre was opened in Cherlapally prison for ten days in 2018. While Telangana has better facilities than most other states, it still has a long way to go before it can reach international standards of human rights.

To address prisoners’ welfare, Telangana has a welfare fund. The funds are utilized on prisoners for various purposes like medical treatment, educational expenditure for deserving children, assistance to family members in case of prisoner death, etc.  The government also introduced a programme called ‘UNNATI’, which is a one-month counselling programme aimed at reforming the prisoners so that they do not commit crimes again. The sessions have helped reduce the rate of re-committal of prisoners. There is also another programme called ‘Mahaparivartan’, under which interest-free loans are given to convicts who have shown good behaviour and have at least three years of prison sentences left. The loan is provided for the purpose of children’s marriage, education, etc. The amount provided is later adjusted at the time of release from the honorarium given for their work in prison.

The state government organizes skill training programmes in various professional courses like welding, plumbing, etc. Additionally, there is also a placement agency to provide jobs to the released prisoners.

Furthermore, there are provisions for employing released prisoners in Petrol Bunk and other establishments. A salary of Rs.16,500 is provided in the corporation limits and Rs. 13,500 in the Municipal limits. The committee appreciated these efforts by the state government and recommended that other state/UTs take necessary measures to employ released prisoners. Also, this would help the prison department to study the behaviour of the released prisoners through their employers. Apart from professional skills, cultural events, and sports activities, yoga training is provided.

While Telangana’s government and prison department have implemented various schemes to enhance the state’s prison system, there is an acknowledgement that more work is needed. Incorporating the committee’s recommendations is crucial for further improving the functioning of the prison system. Despite all efforts, it is most unfortunate that the number of Muslims and Dalits under detention and in prison without being formally charged remains disproportionately high.

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