Five months after Maharashtra’s prison department started an initiative called Gala Bhet, or ‘embrace your child’, for prisoners across the state, authorities say the reform has had a positive impact on the behaviour and mental well-being of prisoners.
Under the initiative, convicts can meet their children at least once a month inside the prison’s canteen or recreation hall.
Usually, when convicts meet family members, they are separated by a glass window and communication happens through an intercom for a brief duration.
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As part of this initiative, prisoners were able to meet their children, aged below 16 years, for a longer duration without the barrier of a wall. At least 700 prisoners from across 40 prisons in Maharashtra were able to meet, hug and eat with their children over the last few months, said officials.
This comes in the wake of the state government amending its rules making it difficult for prisoners convicted for serious crimes to get parole and furlough. What was started as a pilot project in Nagpur prison was replicated in all other prisons of the state.
B K Upadhyay, ADG (Prisons), said, “The bond that they have with children is very strong and since they have been confined within the prison, this initiative has had a transformatory effect on them.”
Prison officials say that many convicts who were charged with murder, assault and dacoity behaved violently and many others were arrogant, depressed and suicidal. However, there was an observable change of behaviour after they started meeting their children.
A prison official said, “The initiative really improved their psyche. After spending time with their children, they were less aloof and depressed and became more active and cheerful.”
Authorities say it improved the image of jail staffers as well. “We always have difficulty dealing with criminals but talking and playing with their kids has a calming effect on them. In fact, the prisoners thank the jail staffers and even cooperate with them, unlike before,” added Upadhyay.
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis sent a letter to the department applauding the initiative and has asked the authorities to increase the frequency of the meetings.
A prison official said, “We see the convicts laughing with their children, sharing a meal and playing with them and towards the end, it is a teary farewell and most often, the convicts inquire with us about when they can meet the kids next. It is truly a reformatory exercise as far as we are concerned and we are very happy with the results.”
He also added that this could go a long way in cutting down their sentence in prison since many have started exhibiting good behaviour.