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13 Dec 2017

SC tells states to consider setting up an open prison in each district

A view of the Supreme Court in New Delhi.HT, Dec 12, 2017, New Delhi: Taking forward the debate on prison reforms, the Supreme Court has asked the state governments to consider setting up an ‘open prison’ in each district.

At present, there are 63 open jails in the country with a total capacity of 5,370 but most remain underutilised as these together house 3,789 prisoners (70.6%), as per the National Crime Records Bureau’s (NCRB) report for 2015.

In contrast, nearly all the regular prisons in the country are overcrowded, the report adds.

A bench headed by justice MB Lokur asked the Centre to hold a meeting with all the state governments and study the Rajasthan model, the state with maximum (29) open prisons.

Attorney general KK Venugopal agreed with the court, terming open prison system a novel experiment, and said the states should not have any objection in studying measures adopted by Rajasthan.

The bench responded by asking the Centre to “take the lead in framing guidelines”. “Otherwise there will be total confusion,” the court observed.

Venugopal insisted the states’ opinion must be sought before the Centre takes any decision in this regard. Justice Lokur advised the Union ministry of home affairs (MHA) to hold a conference with all the states to take their views on this.

The court, however, rejected Venugopal’s request to ask states to file affidavits, saying it will be a time-consuming task.

“If the Centre holds a meeting with the respective states’ director general of police, they (the DGPs) can receive instructions (immediately),” it said, and fixed February 21 as the next date of hearing in the matter.

The court’s suggestion came on a submission made by advocate Gaurav Agarwal, who is assisting it in the prison reforms case. The advocate’s report presented Rajasthan as a success story in reforming undertrials.

The court then directed states to file their response to advocate Agarwal within four weeks, which will be followed by the MHA’s call for the meeting.

As per the NCRB report, 17 states have open jails. While Rajasthan tops with 29, Maharashtra is second with 13,  followed by Kerala and Tamil Nadu with three each, and Gujarat and West Bengal with two each.

Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Punjab, Telangana and Uttarakhand have one jail each.

Agarawl said the Rajasthan model was a learning experience as to how the open prison system could benefit the prisoner, his family, the society and the state government. “It is time states realise the benefit of this system, which is consistent with the prisoners’ dignity. Such prisons will help in reforming the inmates, which is the goal of any criminal justice administration,” Agarwal said.

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