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Monday, October 3, 2011

Should Prison life be cozy and at the convenience of criminals ?

There has been a raging debate on the affidavit filed by the Planning Commission before the Supreme Court stating that Rs.25/- a day  in rural areas constituted adequate private expenditure on food, education and health.  The limit in cities is purportedly Rs.32/- - how can one live on a measly Rs.32/- only those who framed this would know !!

In a civil Society, crimes need to be punished.  A section of people toil so hard and are not able to meet their ends – even at a measly Rs.32/- per day… so those who dishonestly rob others and commit crimes must be punished.  There is Police Force, the Law Enforcement Agency which would apprehend the criminals, place them before the Legal Wing, the Courts which would determine the punishments according to the crime and they would be sent to prison as a punishment of the offence. 

Sounds fine – but is prison life really difficult and is it a punishment for those criminals landing in jail (despite the procedural hassles in apprehending, providing witnesses, establishing the crime, the intent and involvement of the accused and finally there could still be acquittal for lack of evidence, lack of establishment or on sentimental grounds or on whipped up frenzies as is seen across Tamilnadu now.
Prison is a place for refining Criminals – but would test them with hard labour, less of food and strong punishments – one thought !!!

A few years back, a convicted killer in UK boasted on social network (Facebook) that being in jail is being on holiday.  He reportedly even put up a picture of himself relaxing out there – that was a 27 year old serving life in UK prison for stabbing a man through the heart.  He was accessing FB daily through a smuggled mobile. In one of his posts, he reportedly said – out there, relaxing, no stress just rest ! – more astonishingly,  his friends on the social networking site agreed.  The prison at HMP Lindholme is reported to have a games room, TV room with DVDs and an activities centre for computer classes.   A few years back  certain prisons in London launched a scheme to allow prisoners limited access to websites in order to let them resettle in their community and apply for jobs.

If you felt that outrageous, now the UK Prison Chief has gone on record of allowing phones to convicts in cells hoping that it will thwart black market mobiles !!  Sound Crazy…. If a law cannot be enforced, can one legalise the aberrations ??

Daily Mail has one report stating that this could allow prisoners making calls from beds.   Going by that report, Officials are searching for a suitable jail to pilot the scheme and HMP Isis, a young offenders’ institution in South East London, is believed to be the most likely choice. The prison can hold 252 inmates in single and double cells, and each cell would have a landline phone installed.   The move is intended to stamp out the illegal use of mobiles in prisons and the flourishing black market in smuggled phones. It will also end the scenes, made familiar by television dramas, of inmates queuing to use public phones on prison landings.  The authorities were quoted as saying :   ‘There is a major problem with mobiles at present. People smuggle them in and there is a massive black market. Others bring in SIM cards. The more business-minded prisoners run the operation like a BT monopoly.  One can have a breather as the outgoing will be to approved lines and the listed numbers  will be vetted and agreed in advance to ensure that prisoners are not harassing victims or organising drug deals or other criminal rackets from behind bars. Calls to sex lines and bookmakers will also be barred.  But after installing and allowing lines, how much of these would be controlled is anybody’s guess !!  How and why prison services be run for the convenience of prisoners who have landed there after committing horrific crimes !!

There is already strong perception that many  prisoners have a better standard of living inside than on the outside. No wonder people ask why prison doesn’t stop them reoffending.’

Already the prisons in Norway treats inmates with saunas, sunbeds, deck chairs and other facilities.  Bastoy is the home to Norway’s only island prison is more like a holiday retreat than a prison. It has a library and low security and to anyone to whom the idea of allowing a convicted murderer the freedom to work and mix openly with non-criminals is anathema, this prison would be as the facilities would easily  offend our deeply ingrained ideas about prisons as a place of punishment and as a deterrent to possible offenders.   Of course, Norway is one of the wealthiest, most sparsely populated and most stable countries in the world, with a population of just five million, and a prison population fluctuating around 3,500 inmates, the lowest percentage in Europe apart from Iceland; surely a special case.  It is further stated that Norwegian penal system has no death penalty or life terms and a maximum sentence of just 21 years, Norwegian society is forced to confront the fact that most prisoners, however heinous their crimes, will one day be released back into society..'

And if at all – you thought that Europe is crazy, here is something on what is happening in India….

Today, there is a report in TOI quoting a Jail Superintendent that the Government has invited suggestions from various central prisons in Tamilnadu on introducing ‘idli and dosa’ in breakfast menu either in addition to or instead of the existing menu – in a bid to free prisoners from the rice gruel-upma-pongal routine.  The report states that the daily food allowance is earmarked for each inmate,depending on the location of the prison is   Rs 40 to Rs 75/-  [which a high % of civilized citizens do not get, because they have not committed any crime !]  ---- besides the prisoners are to be allowed 50 minutes of talk time every month !!

This however is nothing novel and is reportedly in place in some States including Karnataka and Delhi. The prisoner can choose to either exhaust the time in one go or split it into any number of times to speak to select family members and friends, said another official.
The newspaper report states about the diet regimen in jails : inmates get a cup of tea immediately after their un-lockup at 6 am.After 7 am,they are given breakfast.Between 11.30am and noon,they get 650 gram of rice,sambar and butter milk,to be followed by boiled ground nut or grams at 4 pm.For dinner,which is served before the lock-up at 6 pm,they get 550 grams of rice and sambar.

If courts or doctors prescribe wheat-based diet,the inmate concerned would get three super-size chapathis each for lunch and dinner.Every Sunday, each inmate gets 11 grams of chicken curry during lunch.In case of vegetarians, ghee and dal and a sweet are given.  A-Class inmates get non-vegetarian dishes twice a week, and the quantity too is 150 gram each. Also,they get a pillow,a cot with mattress,a table,a chair and a newspaper,if available. As per provisions of Volume II of Tamil Nadu Prison Manual,a person must be educationally and economically sound or has had a habit of superior mode of living to be eligible for A-class facilities.  Quoting a Human Rights PP, the reports states that to some this is a system of inequality !!  Instead,those who can afford,can be asked to pay for additional facilities,subject to eligibility and availability  

Sounds funny only to those who do not understand !!

Regards – S. Sampathkumar.

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