AS THE state awaits the Assembly poll results, the Punjab jails department has begun a crackdown inside the prisons, along with implementing large-scale reforms. The crackdown began last week, days after the February 4 election. On Saturday, from Amritsar Central Jail alone, as many as 19 mobile phones were recovered from inmates on a single day. In Ferozepur jail, as many as 25 mobile phones have been reported to be recovered in a span of a few days.
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Additional Director General, Prisons, Rohit Choudhary, said random inspections were being carried out in jails across the state “at all levels”.
Seeking to live down the Nabha jail escape fiasco, jail authorities had last week announced plans for high-security zones in all the nine central jails for dreaded criminals and gangsters. The high-security zones will feature 4G jammers, door frame metal detectors, round-the-clock CCTV surveillance and different meeting (mulakat) timings for hardcore criminals, besides deployment of “reliable jail staff”. Also on the anvil are the installation of a new phone calling system to enable jail inmates to call up their family and relatives as allowed in the jail manual.
Choudhary denied that the new measures were timed for the period between the polls and results.
“The department had set the initiatives in motion ever since I took over [as ADG Jails]. During elections, you [media] people were busy. So, I decided to hold media briefing after the polls,” he said.
Choudhary was appointed ADG Jails after the Nabha jailbreak case where armed gangsters freed six jail inmates, including two terrorists and four gangsters. Choudhary had replaced M K Tiwari, who was initially suspended after the jailbreak, but was later reinstated as ADGP Traffic.
On Sunday, Gurpreet Singh Sekhon, one of the six men who escaped from the jail, was arrested in Moga district. He was the third of the jailbreakers to be arrested and the first to be picked up from Punjab. Harminder Singh Mintoo, a militant, was arrested the day after the jailbreak from Delhi, and Kulpreet Singh Neeta, a gangster, was picked up in Madhya Pradesh in January.
The audacious Nabha jailbreak marked a low point both for the jails and the police department as well as the SAD-BJP government.
“The enclosures for the hardcore criminals have been made functional and such inmates shifted there. We have already placed orders for equipments like 4G jammers and door frame metal detectors,” Choudhary said.
He attributed the recovery of phones from inside jails to enhanced level of random inspections at all levels, including by the jail staff, the district administration and by teams from Chandigarh headquarters.
“While there is no possibility of hardcore criminals using mobile phones in high-security zones, there are some jails where things could be thrown inside the jail from areas outside. And, in many cases, such phones are used by the jail inmates to call up their family members as existing phone calling arrangement which allows them to legally make calls to their family members and relatives is not up to the mark. We are introducing a computerised biometric system in baracks where inmates would be able to make calls on designated phone numbers for the time allowed to them to make such calls,” Choudhary said.
According to norms, an inmate is allowed to make calls to designated numbers from jail phone for up to five minutes in a week. Under e-prisons, a system is already in place to enable inmates to make calls. Amritsar Jail Superintendent Ashish Kapoor, however, said that there were “connectivity” issues with the existing system due to the breakage of cables at times. He added, “The new system would be wire less and instead of a card in existing system, the new system would be based on biometric system.”