Updated: March 6, 2021 8:47:20 am
The Uttarakhand government recently issued a notification to post IPS officers as superintendents of Sittarganj, Haldwani, Haridwar, Dehradun and Roorkee prisons. This has raised questions of propriety both in legal and governance terms. A PIL has been filed against the government’s decision before the Uttarakhand High Court. The decision contradicts the provisions of the Uttar Pradesh Jail (Group A and B) Service Rules, 1982, and amounts to police custody by giving the police direct access to prisoners during “judicial custody”.
The decision to appoint police officers as heads of the prison department, a practice that goes against the philosophy of correctional administration, was started in the 1980s, on grounds of strengthening security and to control corruption. Earlier, prison departments were headed by prison officers or IAS officers. Bihar is the only state which continues to have an IAS officer heading the prison department as Inspector General of Prisons and Correctional Services. Various prison reform committee reports like the Justice Mulla Committee on Prison Reforms Report (1983) and the Justice Krishna Iyer Committee on Women Prisoners Report (1987) have advocated that prisons should be houses of reformation and rehabilitation of prisoners and their families, and have recommended the creation of a specialised All India Prison Service along the lines of the IPS or IAS.
Over time, police officers have been appointed or deputed to prisons even at the lower levels in Gujarat and Punjab, to name a couple of states. The logic for these appointments is the same as that used to appoint police officers as heads of the prison departments. But an added rationale is that prison departments have limited strength at the officer level, leading to malpractices. The suggested solution is to bring fresh talent from outside, who would not have any long-term stake in the system. The absence of a sufficiently large pool of officers to choose from is used as a ground to bring police officers into the system.
While the problems diagnosed may have a ring of truth, the solutions offered are ad hoc and short-sighted. For example, to address the ills in the police system, one does not advocate the appointment of army officers, and rightly so. Each department is created for a purpose and involves training inputs specific to the job requirements. Police personnel are recruited and trained to detect crime and maintain law and order, while prison officers are recruited and trained to reform and rehabilitate offenders. If the objective is not being served, one needs to analyse the reasons for the same.
We do not invest in the prison system in terms of resources and staff. We need to appoint social workers and counsellors in sufficient numbers. We need to conduct regular training in human rights and social reintegration for prison staff. We need to fill vacancies, which are as high as 30 to 40 per cent as per the India Justice Report 2020. We need to create sufficient scope for upward mobility for prison officers, so that good work can be rewarded with promotions. In a few states, a prison officer who starts his career as a deputy superintendent of a central prison can end up as Additional IG or IG Prisons, whereas in most states, one can only rise to the rank of DIG Prisons. Prison officers are a demotivated lot, often at the receiving end of a criminal justice system and the media, which is quick to highlight their misdemeanours and violations without going into the systemic reasons for the same.
Lastly, appointing police officers in prisons either as superintendents or as jailors amounts to a violation of the principle of separation of powers enshrined in our Constitution. The meaning of judicial custody is that the police investigation is over and the accused is now taken out of police custody and handed over to the prison custody under the supervision of the judiciary. In fact, a police officer is not allowed to enter a prison without a court order, unless a crime takes place inside and the prison authorities report the matter to the police. In such a scenario, asking a police officer to head a prison is a gross violation of the letter and spirit of this provision.
This article first appeared in the print edition on March 6, 2021 under the title ‘In wrong custody’. The writer is professor, Centre for Criminology and Justice, School of Social Work, TISS.
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