WILL THIS RE­FORM REACH OUR PRISONS?

The New Indian Express - - EDITORIAL -

The pa­thetic and in­hu­man con­di­tions pre­vail­ing in our prisons, jails and re­mand homes, par­tic­u­larly those for ju­ve­niles, has fi­nally been taken note of by the Supreme Court. Over­crowded and un­der­staffed, our jails of­fer sub­hu­man liv­ing con­di­tions, and vi­o­lent clashes among and be­tween in­mates and author­i­ties are reg­u­lar af­fairs. In 2015, on an av­er­age, four pris­on­ers died every day, ac­cord­ing to a re­port. More than 75 deaths were re­ported to be sui­cides while fel­low in­mates mur­dered 11 pris­on­ers. Re­spond­ing to a 2013 PIL seek­ing ac­tion on un­nat­u­ral deaths, ill-trained and in­ad­e­quate staff, and other is­sues plagu­ing 1,382 prisons across the coun­try, a Supreme Court bench com­pris­ing Jus­tices M B Lokur and Deepak Gupta Fri­day or­dered that the gov­ern­ment must iden­tify and com­pen­sate the next of kin of those who die un­nat­u­rally in ju­ve­nile homes and prisons. The Supreme Court asked the gov­ern­ment to con­sider ex­tend­ing phone and video con­fer­ence fa­cil­i­ties for pris­on­ers to com­mu­ni­cate with their fam­i­lies and lawyers.

The mod­ern-day prison ad­min­is­tra­tion which seeks to just pun­ish in­mates rather than trans­form them orig­i­nated with Lord Ma­caulay and is a legacy of Bri­tish rule. The Prisons Act, 1894 is more than a cen­tury old. So while the re­forms, though lim­ited and long over­due, are a step in the right di­rec­tion, those ex­pect­ing in­stant re­forms are urged not to hold their breath. Last year, Home Min­is­ter Ra­j­nath Singh ap­proved a new prison man­ual which aimed to bring in ba­sic uni­for­mity in rules gov­ern­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tion of prisons and the man­age­ment of pris­on­ers all over the coun­try. The court has now di­rected the Cen­tre to cir­cu­late this man­ual.

The gov­ern­ment had al­ready set up var­i­ous com­mit­tees in­clud­ing the Jus­tice Mulla Com­mit­tee and Jus­tice Kr­ishna Iyer Com­mit­tee on Women Pris­on­ers to look into prison re­forms, yet the prob­lems seem to per­sist. So while the rul­ing must be com­mended, im­ple­ment­ing it is another ques­tion al­to­gether.

IN­DIAN EX­PRESS IS NOT AN IN­DUS­TRY. IT IS A MIS­SION. — Ram­nath Goenka

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