Perhaps the true reason for public apathy for open prisons is the extensive use of probation as a measure of individualised treatment of offenders which seeks to bring about reformation and rehabilitation of criminals within the community itself. Resort to semi-open technique of open Jail is therefore, not mustering the desired public attention.
Another serious allegation against the working of open prisons is that they are looked upon as taming places of miscreants. Many have questioned the advisability of maintaining them at the cost of public exchequer. It is alleged that in an anxiety for reformation of prisoners, the basic fact that they are notorious and formidable criminals, is lost sight of.
The inmates more often than not, flout prison rules blatantly and even dictate terms to the prison officials. In order to avoid “trouble” and confrontation with dreaded offenders, the prison officials choose to do nothing but transfer their right and responsibilities to the powerful “criminal chief” who commands power over his fellow-inmates because of his muscle strength or past status.
This deliberate malingering of duty in the name of promoting self-discipline and self reliance among the inmates, defeats the very purpose of open prisons. The need of the day therefore, is to review the functioning of the existing open prisons and introduce reforms which would be really beneficial to the inmates as also those coming in contact with them.
That apart, the Jail Reforms Committee has expressed a view that Section 433-A of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 which provides for a minimum imprisonment of fourteen years for life convicts negatives the benefit of curtailment in the sentence of inmates of open jails which they earn by way of good conduct in prison. In fact, it defeats the very purpose of open prisons.
The Jail Reforms Committee has suggested two kinds of open prisons, namely, open, and semi-open jails and the criterion for booking prisoners to these open jails should not be long-termers or short-termers but overall possibility of prisoner’s propensity to reform and re-socialisation.
Despite certain shortcomings in the working of open prisons, it must be accepted that these open jails have become a part and parcel of the present day prison system. They have rendered commendable service to society in general and prison community in particular. The working of open prisons over the years has proved beyond doubt that ‘help’ and not ‘hate’ should be guiding principle underlying modern prison administration.
At the same time it also reflects upon the futility of long term incarceration as a measure of punishment. The directives of the Supreme Court contained in Ramamurthy’s case should have been viewed seriously by the States and they should have initiated steps to set up open air camps at least in each District headquarter for the resocialisation of corrigible prisoners.
The apathy of the State Governments in this regard has led to overcrowding in prisons which contributes to a greater risk of disease, surveillance and disorder among the prison inmates resulting in manifold problems for the prison management.