Essay on Origin and Development of Open Prison Institutions in India !
The development of open prison institutions in India can be traced back from the middle of the nineteenth century when the first All India Jail Committee was appointed in 1836 to review the prison administration of this country The Committee, in its report did not favour employment of prisoners on major public works and therefore, the system fell into disuse during the next twenty years. The Second Jail Committee was appointed in 1864 to review the Jail administration.
It was in 1877 that the question of employing prisoners on major work sites such as digging of canals or dams etc. was reopened in the Prison Conference of that year. The Conference strongly recommended that employment of prisoners as labourers on large public works was not only valuable but also a necessary adjunct to jail administration. This recommendation was subsequently accepted and followed in practice.
The All India Jail Committee of 1919-20 re-asserted the need for humane treatment of offenders. The chairman of the Committee, Sir Alexender Cardew observed that the most critical moment in a convict’s life is not when he goes into the prison but when he comes out of it. Having lost his character and social standing, he finds it difficult to adjust to the normal life of a free society.
The Committee expressed a view that the open air life and employment in the form of labour were not averse to reformatory influences. Construction of jail buildings was considered as a suitable form of such work for prisoners. Though this Committee thought that the employment of prisoners on agricultural farms was the most natural and appropriate form of labour especially for prisoners who were largely drawn from the agriculturist background, but such employment involved distribution of labour over a very wide area which made guarding and supervision difficult. Therefore, the idea was dropped.
During 1920-27, several provincial governments appointed Committees to review prison administration and recommended changes of a far-reaching nature. But the question of prisoner’s employment did not go beyond expansion of cottage industries in prisons.
The post-independence period in India witnessed a radical change in the prison policy and techniques of handling offenders. The old method of confining prisoners inside well guarded prisons was discarded as it served no useful purpose for the rehabilitation of criminals after their release. With the advancement in knowledge of human behaviour, the part played by psycho-social environment in the development of offender was emphasised.
It was realised that inmates should be afforded fullest opportunity to associate themselves with free society and the gap between the life inside and outside the prison should be narrowed down as far as possible. Open air Camps have done commendable service in achieving this objective.
The first scientific effort to modernise prison in India was made by Sir Walter Reckless, the U.N. Technical Expert who visited India in 1952 when he submitted an excellent report on prison administration in India. As a result of this, All India Jail Committee was appointed in 1956-57 which worked for three years and made useful recommendations for prison reforms.
One of the recommendations of the Jail Committee was to set up open jails for the rehabilitation of prisoners. The emphasis under this system was on self-discipline and self-help. These open jails were characterised by the absence of material and physical precautions against escapes so as to inculcate a sense of responsibility among inmates towards the group in which they live.
It must be stated that the basic philosophy behind the working of open prisons is utilisation of prison labour for employment in open conditions. It must be stated that even though the employment of prisoners in open conditions is more than a century old but the objectives of such employment have vastly changed in the sense that originally it was meant to take hard work from prisoners under conditions which were humiliating and dehumanising whereas today, it is aimed at providing them with useful and meaningful work under conditions which help them in restoring their self-respect and self-confidence.