THE PRISON Reform Committee constituted by the Government of Maharashtra, having conducted six prison visits across the state, has been granted an extension of another six months to complete its assessment. The Bombay High Court has extended the time granted to the committee to submit its report till June 30, calling its work so far ‘commendable’.
“The committee has also set out the road map incorporating 12 issues, which the committee proposes to deal with. The work done by the committee deserves to be appreciated. Considering the extent of work carried out by the committee and the issues, which the committee proposes to address, the prayer made for grant of extension to submit the report deserves to be acceded to,” the court said.
Having held its first meeting on July 10 last year, the five-member committee is the first such panel appointed by the state government to specifically consider what reforms can be undertaken to improve Maharashtra’s prison system.
Its terms of reference include recommendations to reduce prison population, suggestions on facilities provided in prisons, problems faced by prisoners, upgradation of the prisons and suggestions for modern prisons based on the Model Prison Rules, 2016, relevant judgments by the Supreme Court and various High Courts as well as the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.
“As per the directions of the HC and the Government Resolution constituting the committee dated June 6, 2017, the committee is expected to submit a report recommending prison reforms. While we will also be submitting a detailed report at the end of our term, we also wanted prisoners to effectively benefit even as we are in the process of collecting data for the report,” said Justice Dr S Radhakrishnan, former Judge of the Bombay High Court and chairman of the committee. The other members include Dr Bhushan Kumar Upadhyay (Additional DGP prisons), Professor Dr Vijay Raghavan of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences and a secretarial-level official from the Home department.
So far, in its visits to six prisons — Mumbai Central prison (Arthur Road jail), Byculla district prison, Thane central prison, Taloja central jail in Navi Mumbai, Yerwada central jail in Pune and Kalyan prison — the committee has met prisoners, prison officials as well as invited stakeholders to make presentations and submissions, including government officials from the Public Works Department on infrastructure and the director of health services on medical services in jails.
With the focus on bringing in reform even as the committee continues its assessment, after one of the meetings by the committee, the Director of Health Services issued orders to district civil surgeons across the state to operate weekly Out Patient Department clinics for two hours in every district prison. Other issues already tackled by the committee include adding the superintendent of prison as a member of the District Undertrial Review Committees, carrying out quarterly surveys in prisons by the District Legal Services Authority to identify undertrials who can be released on PR bonds, the issue of availability of police escorts for production of prison inmates to courts and hospitals and filling vacant posts in prisons.
Among the issues the committee has said it seeks to address in its term, if extended, are reviewing the Maharashtra prison manual in light of the Model Prison Manual, 2016 approved by the Union Home Ministry, reviewing wages paid to prisoners for work in prisons, formulating a policy for NGOs working in prisons, measures to be taken for welfare of children of prisoners and exploring the possibility of involving the skill development department for rehabilitation and vocational training of prison inmates