The Supreme Court on Tuesday directed the Ministry of Home Affairs to convene a meeting of directors general or inspectors general of prisons of all states and union territories to discuss the feasibility of establishing open jails across the country.
Semi-open prison or open prison allows convicts to work outside the premises of the jail and earn a livelihood and return in the evening.
The concept was brought in to assimilate the convicts with the society and reduce their psychological pressure as they face lack of confidence in leading normal lives outside.
The apex court asked the MHA to send a communication to all the states and UTs for their response on whether they were willing to set up open jails and how they would manage them.
A bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta said the concerned authorities of states and UTs would give their response to the MHA within four weeks after which a meeting be held in the first week of February to discuss the issue.
During the hearing, an advocate, assisting the court as an amicus curiae in the matter, said there were 63 open prisons in the country as of now housing around 6,000 inmates.
The bench also observed that the concept of open prison could reduce the problem of overcrowding in the jails. “We would like the MHA to study this,” it said.
Attorney General K K Venugopal told the court that it was primarily for the states to look into this aspect and the Centre could lay down a guideline for it.
When the bench was informed about the open jail system in Rajasthan, Venugopal said it could be helpful for other states also.
At the outset, the Attorney General told the court about the meeting by the MHA with the inspector generals of prisons and said several issues were discussed with an objective to improve the situation in jails.
“So far as MHA is concerned, it has carried out what the Supreme Court wanted it to do. Now, it is for the states to implement it,” Venugopal said.
During the hearing, the bench asked the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) to put on its website the standard operating procedure, aimed at making the functioning of undertrial review committees (UTRCs) more efficient to elicit public comments to improve it.
A UTRC, set up in every district, deliberates and recommends the release of undertrial prisoners and convicts who have undergone their sentences or are entitled to be released from jail due to bail or remission granted to them.
The bench would hear on February 21 the matter relating to inhuman conditions prevailing in 1,382 prisons across the country.
It had earlier expressed shock at the large number of people languishing in jails in “complete violation” of their rights despite recommendations for their release by the legal services authority and termed the situation as unacceptable.
On September 15, the court had also passed an order on the issue of custodial deaths and said this was a crime and such incidents indicated the “apparent disdain” of the State to the life and liberty of prisoners.
It had also passed a slew of directions over unnatural deaths and on prison reforms across India.