Millennium Post

Compatriots in prison

There are numerous reasons to put an individual in prison. The idea behind imprisonment revolves around the broader purposes of retribution, deterrence, rehabilitation, seclusion, depending on the crime or offence committed by a person. Theories of punishment pertain to the intent of imprisonment and justify doing so in a certain context. But, going a step further, the notion of prison reforms have evolved to have a greater scope and apart from punishment centred on retribution, deterrence, and/or seclusion, incorporating the concept of well-being of prison inmates and in turn general well-being has come to become the cornerstone of the notion of rehabilitation as a purpose of imprisonment. Reform in prisons and asylums is an endeavour to upgrade conditions within prison premises, and in the process, also establish an effective penal system; reforms are also delved upon to seek alternatives to confinement in a jail. The purpose of reform is to enable a problem-free return of people in society. With respect to common practices, conscience, awareness of human rights violation, and a sensitivity towards well-being of others, the idea of safe and secure, clean and livable living spaces has extended to include prisons on ethical grounds. In more recent times, besides physical hygiene and security, prison reforms have come to include easy access to legal counsel, family visits, proactive security against violence and executing house arrest with assistive technology. There is also a parallel notion of making prisoners pay their 'debt' to society which forms the basis of strict and even cruel treatment of jail inmates. Unpaid or low-paid work is the most common instance of this with the justification that their work is for the benefit of the community (to which they have been charged for doing harm in some manner or the other). This also means, as it happens in some countries, that prisons can operate as labour camps. It is criticised that such a practice gives the government an economic incentive to imprison more people. An example would be in corrupt or authoritarian regimes such as the former Soviet Union when under the Joseph Stalin, many citizens were sentenced to forced labour for minor breaches of the law, just because the government needed labour camps as a source of income. Community service, for this reason, is increasingly being used as an alternative to prison for petty crimes. But while in prison, it is an area of constant deliberation to make the environment and living conditions better and safer. It was last year in April 2018 when the Aam Admi Party-led Delhi government amended the prison manual so as to bring some uniformity in rules and regulations governing the administration of prisons and management of prisoners in Tihar Jail. This step was taken following the High Court's order for an inquiry into an incident of violence on inmates lodged in a high-risk ward in jail number 1 of the central jail. With amendments to Tihar Jail rules, a new manual was put forward to focus on female prisoners and general healthcare. Renewed focus on the safety and reformation of women in prisons became of utmost importance to the prison administration. Laying emphasis on hygiene and sanitation, the manual explicitly states that "every prisoner shall be provided adequately ventilated, clean, and sufficient living space with good lighting system… He shall be accommodated separately according to the classification and social-cultural background." It was also hinted back then that the new manual might have legal literacy classes in prisons. But as matters stand, in a repetition of what often happens between the Central government and Delhi city/state government, Lieutenant-Governor Anil Baijal has informed the Delhi High Court that the Delhi Prison Rules 2018 was notified by the city government without submitting the file to him. Keeping the glitches of Administration aside, it is of greater importance to heed the significance of prisons from both perspectives of prison as an entity and prison inmates as individuals who will go back to the society they came from.

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