Monday, Sep 08, 2003
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By Our Staff Correspondent
This was one of the suggestions made at a workshop on prison reforms organised jointly by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) and the State Government's Home Department here over the week-end. The participants highlighted the conditions prevailing in prisons and called for improvement in their management and working conditions.
A presentation on the prisons in Rajasthan made on the occasion pointed out that though the position in the State was better in comparison with Bihar, Haryana, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi -- where the prison population was higher than the available accommodation -- the condition of certain jails was alarming and the overcrowded barracks with lack of minimal facilities had created inhuman living conditions.
There are 100 prison institutions, including eight central jails and 25 district prisons, in the State. Radha Kant Saxena, a former Inspector General of Prisons, who was deputed to conduct a study by CHRI, pointed out that most of the prison buildings were old and dilapidated and were poorly maintained. The jail kitchens are dark, dingy and unhygienic, and there is an insufficient and inappropriate accommodation for women.
A vicious cycle of shortage of staff, exposure to mishaps such as violent attacks, escape, suspension of defaulters and further shortage of staff prevails in the jails. The lack of staff adversely affected correctional activities, work efficiency and accuracy and the overall prison discipline, said Mr. Saxena, who is also vice-president of the State unit of People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL).
The study, conducted with the special emphasis on the prison visiting system over a period of two years, covered the issues ranging from the mode of functioning of the visiting system to the appointment procedure of NOVs, number of visits by both official and non-official visitors, coordination with the authorities, and the prevailing conditions such as overcrowding and infrastructural problems.
Mr. Saxena stated that the implementation of rules regarding the appointment of NOVs was faulty and the functioning of NOVs had glaring anomalies. Appointments were usually made on political considerations and there was hardly any scrutiny of their antecedents. Moreover, the majority of the NOVs were ignorant of their duties and rights as prison visitors.
It was suggested in the presentation that the NOVs should be selected from among the respected citizens and formally introduced to the prison inmates and staff. Their work should be assessed regularly and the terms of only those who perform well should be extended. They should also be given short orientation training and their regional meetings with the prison headquarter officials should be held twice a year.
The Director of CHRI, Maja Daruwala, pointed out that it was only through the prison visiting system that the common people could monitor conditions in an otherwise closed establishment and make recommendations for improvement. CHRI had launched a study in Madhya Pradesh in 1999 and revealed the severe inadequacies prevailing there, while suggesting the need to overhaul the system.
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