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Punish to reform: Rajasthan’s open prison model

  • Published
    7th Feb, 2023

The open prison model adopted in Rajasthan, with convicts staying on community land without high walls or strict surveillance, has promoted a reformative form of punishment and succeeded in transforming the lives of inmates.  

What is Open Prison?

  • Open prisons have relatively less stringent rules as compared to controlled jails.
  • They go by many names like minimum-security prisons, open-air camps or prisons without bars.
  • The fundamental rule of an open prison is that the jail has minimum security and functions on the self-discipline of the inmates.
  • The jail does not confine them completely but requires them to earn their living to support their families, living with them inside the jail.
  • Prisoners can move out of prison for their work and are supposed to come back to the prison campus after their working hours.
  • Every state in India has a prison law, like the Rajasthan Prisoners Rules and Andhra Pradesh Prison Rules, 1979. Seventeen states are reported to have functional open jails with Rajasthan having 31 such prisons, the highest that any state has.
  • The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, popularly known as the Nelson Mandela Rules:
    • It laid down the objectives of open prisons stating that such prisons provide no physical security against escape but rely on the self-discipline of the inmates, providing the conditions most favourable to the rehabilitation of carefully selected prisoners.

Right to Life and Personal Liberty For Prisoners 

  • Article 21: The Supreme Court in various cases has declared the right to medical care comes under the ambit of Article 21 of the Constitution
    • Article 21 of the Constitution also guarantees the right to personal liberty and thereby prohibits any inhuman, cruel or degrading treatment to any person whether he is a national or foreigner. 
  • Article 39A: Article 39A of the Constitution of India deals with the obligation of the State to provide free Legal Aid to such accused prisoners both in the prison and outside, as they are unable to engage a lawyer due to a lack of means to defend themselves in the Court for the criminal charges brought against them.

Benefits of open prison

  • It will reduce overcrowding and operational costs of the prison administration.
  • It will reduce the psychological pressure and lack of confidence among prisoners when they assimilate into society.
  • It goes with the repeated call to develop a humane attitude and reformative approach towards the offenders in society.

Issues faced by prisoners 

  • Overcrowding.
  • Prolonged detention of under-trial prisoners
    • A poor man remains in jail for over a year without trial for minor offences such as theft.
  • Many inmates can’t even afford the bail amount. 
  • Unsatisfactory living conditions.
  • Lack of treatment Programs.
  • The allegations of the indifferent and even inhuman approaches of prison staff have repeatedly attracted the attention of critics over the years. 
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