Saturday, 14 July 2012

History and Development of Prisons in Punjab

History and Development of Prisons in Punjab
Of late Punjab jails have been in news, both for right and wrong reasons. To understand the concept of jails, it is necessary to understand their evolution. Jails or prisons have been historic institutions all over the world. In the context of Punjab, their references can be found from the earliest times. References to karagriha can be found in Ramayan, Mahabharat and even in manu smriti. They are perhaps as old as the civilization itself. There were horrific punishments like feeding to animals, mutilations etc. The first ever reference is available in pre-Buddhist period. Then jails were said to be very cruel. Here, the inmates were, kept in chains and under heavy loads. Whipping was a daily routine in these jails. References to them can also be found in the writings of Huien Tsang and Fa-Hien. During the Rajput and Muslim period, prisons located in old forts and castles were no less cruel than the pre Buddhist prisons. the same is true of the period of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Harsh punishments were, perhaps, a necessity then, given the prevailing situation.
In Punjab, as also in India as such, Jails, in the modern sense, are product of the last century, a legacy of British rule. The prison system in British Indian Empire, like the British rule itself, grew up gradually. The first ever survey of jails throughout the territories of the East India Company was made in 1805 by H.S. Stratcheythe and civil, criminal and mixed jails were established.
However, till 1835-36, prisons were nobody’s baby. The murder of Thomas Richardson, the Magistrate of 24 Parganas also the Superintendent of the jail, at the Presidency of Calcutta, drew attention of the company. Lord McCauley, the then Law Member of the Supreme Council of India, in his report stated that 'the best criminal code can be of very little use to a community unless there be a good machinery for the infliction of punishment’. This was the “deterrence theory”, upon which the prisons in those days were based. The abolition of outdoor labour, general introduction of indoor work, the inauguration of separate system, classification of convicts, careful separation of ‘untried’ prisoners, the institution of central or convict prisons, and the regulation of prison system generally by employment of inspectors of prisons were the main recommendations of this report.
Lord William Bentick appointed the second committee on Jan 2, 1836 under the Chairmanship of H. Shakespeare, a member of Governor General's Council. This committee known as the Prison Discipline Committee, submitted report in 1838 to Lord Auckland. The major observations were the rampant corruption in the prisons and laxity of discipline. It recommended increased rigorous treatment and rejected all notions of reforming criminals through moral and religious teaching, education or any system of rewards for good conduct. It also recommended separation of ‘untried prisoners’ from the convicted ones and establishing the 'office of Inspector General of Prisons'. First Inspector General of Prisons was appointed in India in 1844, for the then North West Province. This post was made permanent in 1850. In those days IG (Prisons) were medical doctors.
In 1858 the Royal Proclamation was issued and the responsibility of the administration was assumed by the British Crown. With the enactment of Indian Penal Code) 1860, prisons metamorphosed into the most important instrument of penal administration. A committee was appointed in 1864 to reconsider the entire issue once again. Sir John Lawrence's examination of the condition of the jails in India led Lord Dalhousie to appoint this Commission of Jail Management and Discipline. The British regime was only interested in the prison from the point of view of administration and discipline. This commission made specific recommendation regarding the accommodation, improvement in diet, clothing, bedding, medical care of the prisoners and for the appointment of Medical Officers in jails. This commission fixed the required minimum space for one prisoner as 54 sq.ft. and 640 cubic ft. The commission also recommended the separation of male prisoners from females and children from adults. Later in 1877, a conference of experts, consisting only of the prison officials, was convened in Calcutta, by the imperial government to inquire into prison administration. One of the major findings of this commission was that the various laws relating to prisons were incomplete, imperfect and nowhere laid down the ‘principle of prison discipline.' The remedy proposed by the conference of 1877 was the enactment of a new prison law, which could secure uniformity of system at least on such basic issues as the reckoning of the terms of sentence.
In 1888, the Fourth Jail Commission’ appointed by Lord Dufferin reviewed the earlier reports of 1836, 1864, and 1877 made recommended ”A Single Prisons Act" and the setting up of jail hospitals and thus came into being the Prisons Act, 1894 which is still the existing law, in most of the states, governing the management and administration of prisons. It is, based on deterrent principles concerned more with prison management than with the treatment of prisoners and gave more consideration to prison offences and punishments than to reformation. The problems of prison management and administration, however, continued. The Indian Jail Committee 1919-20 made the first comprehensive study of these problems in the present century. It was a turning point of the prison reforms in the country. Departing from the vintage deterrent theory, it advocated 'reformation' and 'rehabilitation' of offenders were as the objectives of prison administration. The committee also recommended adequately trained staff, and recommended the establishment of children's court and the juvenile homes. However because of one reason or the other, the recommendations of the committee were not implemented. Still they serve as a guiding principle for prison reforms in India. Government of India Act 1919 as also the Constitution of India left the subject of prisons in the charter of the State Governments without any effective control and supervision of the Central Government. Unfortunately most of the state governments have accorded low priority to the prison reforms. Ever since the independence, a number of jail reform committees have been appointed by the central and the state governments with the aim of achieving the goal of humanization in prisons and to put the treatment of offenders on a scientific footing, but hardly anyone has been implemented.
While local committees were being appointed by the state governments to suggest prison reforms, the government of India invited technical assistance in this field from the United Nations. Dr W.C. Reckless, a UN Expert on correctional work, visited India during the years 1951-52 to study prison administration. In his report 'Jail Administration in India", a landmark in the history of prison reforms, he favoured jails as reformation and rehabilitation centers and opposed the handling of juvenile delinquents by courts, jails, and police meant for adults. Subsequently also the Government of India appointed several committees to look into the issue and they included, amongst others, the report of the All India Jails Manual Committee and the model Prison Manual prepared and presented by that Committee to the Government of India in the year 1960, and the all important All India Committee on Jail Reforms under the chairmanship of Mr. Justice Anand Narain Mulla (1980-83), universally known as MULLA COMMISSION which constitutes a landmark in the reformatory approach to prison reforms. The commission made thorough study of the problems and produced an exhaustive document. These reports, however, only remain the ‘ guiding principles’. Some of the states like Karnataka, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh have made good beginning by way of having their own Prison manuals. Punjab has also drafted it’s own Prison manual, which, however, still has to become an act. Punjab also did commendable work by way of studying the issue which gets reflected in the Bhatnagar and Mr. Justice Amar Dutt’s reports. But they also still remain to be implemented in the right earnest. Mr. Parkash Singh Badal, the Chief Minister of Punjab, has very recently announced some very bold steps aimed at reformation and setting up of new prison houses and allocating liberal funds for the de-addiction centres to be started in all Punjab jails, besides giving money for the ‘restarting’ of the “factories” in prison houses. These, as also other steps announced by him, will certainly go a long way in improving the conditions of the Punjab jails, but a lot more needs to be done before the Punjab jails can become model jails or “SUDHAR GHARS” in the real sense. There are a lot many other problems and issues which need immediate attention of the state government.

1 comment:

  1. could you please share some of your sources for this. like some books that could tell us about the prisons that were administered by the Government of Punjab