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‘Literacy levels, social conditions are at the root of the crime and in the making a criminal’

THANE: When a British court recently slammed the Indian government’s plea to extradite bookie Sanjeev Kumar Chawla, concerned by prevailing inhuman conditions in prisons here, it has drawn fresh attention to the crisis that plagues our prisons.

Already grappling with the controversy over the killing of Manjula Shetye who was beaten and a police baton inserted in her private parts, reportedly by the jail staff at the Byculla women’s jail or the case of the Thane jailer Arun Madne who demanded cash from a father to ensure basic care for his incarcerated son, the conduct of prison authorities leans towards denigrating an inmate or profiting from their problems.

“The fundamental flaw in our system is that prisons are perceived as the solution to end crime. Unfortunately, it is a very conveniently distorted picture. A research on the undertrails or the convicts serving time will reveal that majority of them are the creation of social policy failure. An impartial evaluation will reveal that the literacy levels, social conditions and the economic strife at home are at the root of the crime and in the making a criminal,” a senior prison official said.

An inmate or a convict has always been viewed through the lens of a criminal justice system and the need of the hour is a shift in the approach by policy-makers to look at crime as a social problem and address the core social issue rather than the criminal.

“The answers to tackling crime lie outside our criminal justice system. Take the case of the Mumbai gangsters from Dawood Ibrahim, Chotta Rajan, Arun Gawli. The one common thread between them all is growing up in congested chawl rooms, meaning lack of adequate housing policy, near-poverty, joblessness and the social strife created in the 1980’s due to the closure of mills. The pattern is too hard to ignore and is it not a question worth probing as to why only these youths took to crime whereas the youth from better socio-economic backgrounds shunned crime,” the senior jailer posted out of Mumbai said.

Given the social conditions outside, a trigger-happy police force and the inhuman treatment inside the prison cells, the need of the hour is a policy plan for the inmates and the undertrails to engage constructively with the society and initiate a reform and rehabilitation plan for our prisons.

Cynics would argue that the prisoners do not deserve no sympathy or the benefit of a correctional system. “It is natural to take a stand without understanding the core issue. Take the case of the bus conductor Ashok Kumar who was humiliated, beaten and coerced by police into admitting that he killed the seven-year-old Pradyuman Thakur. More often than not, most inmates are victims of police action which is under government and media pressure to wrap up the case and show results and in the process leads to miscarriage of justice,” the officer said.

The prisons in Maharashtra are brimming, as statistics up to September 2017 reveal that as against the total capacity of 23942 prisons, the cells are packed with 32,909 undertrals and inmates.

While addressing the social problems or housing, education, and employment generation are the root to reduce crime, a correctional system and a reform plan will ensure that the benefits will go beyond the prison walls and curb crime.

Courtesy: Times of India

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