Glimmer of hope in dreary lives of prisoners

NGOs push forward with prison reforms

Society

March 14, 2022

/ By / New Delhi

Glimmer of hope in dreary lives of prisoners

Prisoners receiving certifications from HCL while while being inside prison (Photo: India Vision Foundation)

Indian prisons are notorious for being too overcrowded and harsh on prisoners, with a focus on punishment, without offering them opportunity for repentance or growth. But there is a glimmer of hope as some NGOs have taken the lead and begun working with prison authorities to reform the incarceration conditions and offer a chance to prisoners. Now, several projects for skill development allow the reformed prisoners to begin afresh, once they are released from the prisons.

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Govind Singh, a 39-year-old ex-prisoner finds himself acting as a role model for his fellow inmates with whom he was incarcerated. After serving his sentence for 10 years in a prison in Gurgaon, near Delhi,  Govind is now a project manager in India Vision Foundation and is leading the projects inside the jail premises inspiring the inmates to take part in various activities.

“Whenever a person comes out of jail, that person is looked upon with distrust and hate. Most people believe that the person is not fit to live in society and will relapse into the world of crime. They think that ‘he went to jail so he must be bad’. When I got out of the prison people treated me in the same manner. It took time for the people to realise that I had changed,” Singh tells Media India Group.

Singh was sentenced in 2003, when he started a recovery business in which he assaulted a person and was later booked under 137 and 139 under the Indian Penal Code.

He recalls his time in the prison as bleak and depressing. “The time inside the jail was very depressing and took impacted my mental health. One day people from India Vision Foundation came inside the jail and organised a number of activities aimed at the development of the prisoners. I enrolled in them. I learnt how to use computers, how to weave jute bags and also took a VLCC hair cutting course for the duration of six months. Courses and activities for personality development were also organised,” adds Singh.

As per National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data, every three out of four inmates in the prison are under trial or awaiting trial. An average district jail runs at an occupancy rate of 136 pc. In total, the country has, over 488,500 prisoners held across 410 district jails. The total budget sanctioned for the maintenance and staffing of these prisons is a meagre INR 67.406 billion.

With such high occupancy in the prisons and restricted budgets, it is natural that the living conditions in the prison are very poor. The prisoners have to face multiple problems while they remain inside prison and even in the outside world. The atmosphere inside is bleak and the inmates face depression and solitude on a daily basis. Apart from that, the prisoners are not offered any form of personality or skill development that might help them in the future to be reintegrated back into society when they are released.

Experts say that in face of an ever-increasing prison population and with most of them being undertrials, prison reforms are need of the hour. Monica Dhawan is director of India Vision Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation working on prison reforms which was set up by Kiran Bedi, India’s first woman Indian Police Service officer. “Our organisation has been working on the prison reforms for the past 27 years. In Indian prisons, 70 pc inmates are undertrial, only the rest 30 pc are convicts and among those 30 pc, only 10 pc are hardened criminals. One of our major concerns is the 70 pc who have to spend a prolonged amount of time inside the prison. The prison officials are not trained and are not sensitive towards the prisoners. They are trained to be a custodian rather than a reformer. Apart from the prisoners, there are many children inside these prisons who are under the age of six,” Dhawan  tells Media India Group.

There have been multiple reports where there are no provisions in place for pregnant women or children born in jail. Mothers often struggle to get appropriate food and other necessary items for their children. As per law, these children can stay with their parents till they turn six. “We have been leading the charge for the prison reforms. We have expanded our programmes into six states namely Delhi, Punjab, Haryana, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. Every day we are reaching out to more than 5,000 beneficiaries in various prisons of these states. So far, we have reached over 300,000 inmates. We also organise various workshops and trainings for the officials. For prisoners, over the years we have adapted the 4S model. This model focuses on Shiksha (Education), Sanskar (Values), Skills and Swasth (Health). Apart from this, we have also opened day-care centres for these children inside the prisons,” adds Dhawan.

“The first S is Shiksha since many prisoners are illiterate, we provide them with the basic education. Then comes Sanskar in which we provide value education we do a lot of programmes including yoga and meditation. We also have a lot of life skill sessions. Third, comes the Swasth, in which we focus on both physical and mental well-being when. For physical, many prisoners lack the ability to buy basic hygiene products. We provide a lot of hygiene kits to the inmates. For mental health, we provide classes for meditation, yoga, counselling and therapy sessions. For physical well-being, we distribute hygiene kits among them. The last is Skills. Since these prisoners have ample time in their hands inside the prison, we provide them with entrepreneurial skills so that they can start their own business, instead of struggling to find a job, which can be a challenge due to the stigma that they are seen to carry. We provide various training like computer education certified by HCL foundation, stitching programme which is again certified by Singers Company, we also provide haircutting training and beautician training. We also organised mask-making training during the pandemic,” adds Dhawan.

The government doesn’t provide any kind of monetary or personnel support to the NGOs working on prison reforms. The government provides them with the space to conduct their classes and charge no money in return. “Government is providing us with the opportunity to work in the prison. We don’t have to give rent or pay the electricity bill; they just give us the space. They give us all the required support which we are required inside the prison. We work on the monetary support we receive from our donors,” says Dhawan.

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