The Supreme Court on Tuesday directed the Centre to hold meetings with prison officials across the states and the Union Territories in the first week of February to set up open prisons in the country. The issue came up when the court was hearing a PIL on the poor state of the prisons in the country.
Prisons in India are governed by the Prisons Act, 1900 and each state follows their prison rules and manuals. India has a maximum number of central jails, sub jails, which are controlled jails, and 63 open jails according to the amicus curiae in the case above.
What are open prisons?
Open prisons have relatively less stringent rules as compared to the controlled jails. They go by many names like minimum-security prison, open air camps or prison 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.
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 29 such prisons, the highest that any state has.
The Rajasthan Prisoners Open Air Camp Rules, 1972 define open prison as, “prisons without walls, bars and locks.” Inmates in Rajasthan open prisons are free to go out of the prison after a first roll call and have to return before the allotted second roll call. The jail does not confine them completely but requires them to earn their living to support their families, living with them inside the jail.
The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, popularly known as the Nelson Mandela Rules, 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, provide the conditions most favourable to the rehabilitation of carefully selected prisoners.
The All-India Committee on Jail Reform constituted in 1980 recommended the government to set up and develop open prisons in each state and UT similar to the Sanganer open camp. Sanganer open camp is the largest open prison in Rajasthan and houses nearly 400 prisoners. The Committee also stated the number of open prisons and prisoners each state has.
Who are eligible for open prisons?
Every state law defines the eligibility criteria of inmates who can be in an open prison. The principal rule is that an inmate eligible for open air prison has to be a convict. Good conduct in prison and at least five years spent in a controlled jail are the rules followed by the Rajasthan open prisons. The Rajasthan open prison do not take in undertrial prisoners. The Rajasthan Prison Rules also specify the ineligibility criteria for admission of inmates in open prison.
The All-India Committee on Jail Reform too recommended that life convicts who offer good prognosis should be transferred to semi-open & open prisons.