THE MAHARASHTRA government has increased the budgetary allocation for a scheme meant for released convict prisoners from Rs 12 lakh to Rs 1 crore per year this month. The grant-in-aid scheme, which has been in place in the state for over three decades, provides financial assistance to released convicts to help them get self-employed.
Many prisoners who are released after long years of incarceration find it difficult to resume their previous form of employment due to factors including social stigma and inability to find a livelihood. Through the scheme, prisoners can get Rs 25,000 after their release after submitting a proposal to the district probation officer under the Women and Child Development (WCD) department. The prisoner is expected to submit a proposal on a business they want to start along with other requisite documents.
The Bombay High Court had in 2017 directed the state government to consider increasing the budgetary allocation of the scheme from Rs 12 lakh to at least Rs 2 crore as per the suggestions of Prayas, a field action project of Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) that works in prisons and was appointed as amicus curiae by the court.
The WCD department officials had also submitted that they were able to process only 60 applications from prisoners through the earlier budget.
This week, the state government also announced the disbursal of a sum of Rs 25 lakh, a part of the budget for utilisation, to the WCD department. Officials said the total budget is expected to benefit 400 convicts across the state. Earlier, each prisoner received Rs 5,000 with the annual budgetary allocation of Rs 12 lakh benefitting only 50 prisoners.
Many states across the country focus on aftercare schemes as part of the rehabilitation of prisoners as a means to reduce recidivism. Prison reform committees, including the Justice Mulla committee and Justice Krishna Iyer Committee, had suggested schemes for the aftercare of released prisoners including units in each district to follow-up with prisoners and liaise with potential employers.
In 2018, a report submitted by the Justice Radhakrishnan Committee on Prison Reforms, constituted by the state government on orders of the High Court, had recommended increasing the criteria for seeking the grant. It had said the amount should be permitted to be used in a range of possibilities that facilitate rehabilitation such as housing, purchase of household commodities, education, training, skill development.
“This needs to be considered in the light of the fact that not all prisoners have the capacity to run businesses, especially if they do not have a stable shelter,” the committee had then said. The committee also said the scheme should be transferred to the prison department from the WCD department for smooth implementation and coordination with prisoners.
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