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SC Asks States to Establish ‘Open Prisons’ As Part of Jail Reforms

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday urged the state governments to establish “open prisons” as a measure to usher in reforms for inmates and to also prevent overcrowding.

Open prisons are jails with minimal supervision and physical control over inmates. Prisoners are allowed to take up regular employments; they can walk out of jail campus in morning and come back in evening after their work hours.

While issuing a slew of directions relating to prison reforms, a bench led by Justice Madan B Lokur said the timing was right for the states to experiment with the open prison system.

It found merit in the suggestion given by advocate Gaurav Agrawal, amicus curiae in the PIL, who suggested that the concept of open prisons should be encouraged in India. This, Agrawal had said, will be a positive step towards giving prisoners an opportunity to reform themselves by assimilating with the society once again.

“The suggestion was given by the learned amicus of encouraging the establishment of ‘open jails’ or ‘open prisons’ is certainly worth considering,” noted the Court.

Agrawal also brought to the Court’s notice that the experiment in Shimla and the semi-open prison in Delhi have been extremely successful and their models need to be carefully studied.

“Perhaps there might be equally successful experiments carried out in other States as well and, if so, they require being documented, studied and emulated,” said the bench, urging the states to do needful.

It also said that prison officials should consider extending the time or frequency of visits to prison by the family of a prisoner.

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“They should and also explore the possibility of using phones and video conferencing for communications not only between a prisoner and family members of that prisoner but also between a prisoner and the lawyer, whether appointed by the State Legal Services Authority or otherwise,” the Court further held.

Among other directions, the bench asked 24 high courts across the country to register suo motu PILs on unnatural deaths of prisoners since 2012 and award suitable compensation to their families.

It also directed the state governments to appoint counselors and support persons for counseling prisoners, particularly first-time offenders.

The Ministry of Women and Child Development has been directed to formulate procedures tabulating the number of children who suffer unnatural death in child care institutions.

The bench was hearing a PIL registered suo motu in connection with unsatisfactory conditions in 1382 jails across the country.

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