The National Conference on Probation and Allied Measures held in India in October, 1971 identified the need for co-ordinated voluntary action in correctional field at the district, State and national level. The assistance from the Central Bureau of Correctional Services, Government of India may strengthen the probation programme in the field of social defence.
It must be stated that during recent years most countries of the world are presently striving hard to evolve out an efficient system for treatment of offenders. Commenting on global efforts to popularise probation as a reformative method of treatment of offenders, Torston Erkinson, the Director-General of Swedish Prison Board observed that the task of correctional system is twofold, namely, to prevent the society from dangerous criminals and to rehabilitate these criminals so that they can return to society as law abiding citizens.
Considered from this standpoint, probation as a correctional measure should provide useful after-care to the offenders and a satisfactory security to the society. To achieve this objective, it is desired that correctional system should not only be confined to probation officers of the Courts but must also seek active participation of publicmen in treatment of offenders.
This will help to soften the attitude of common men towards criminals and they would learn to recognise the worth of a human being underneath the offender. For example, the Swedish courts have sought to integrate the treatment of offenders with the social order by associating committees of laymen with courts to help the Judges in recording decisions.
This collaboration of lay citizens with the functioning of court has tended to create an atmosphere conducive to the reformation of offenders. In United States, many respectable citizens associate themselves with the problems of inmates and help and advise the latter in the capacity of “Big Brother” or “Big Sister”. They visit correctional institutions meant for young offenders to acquaint themselves with the problems of inmates and render them all possible help and guidance.
It is rather disappointing to note that participation of public in the correctional programme for offender’s reformation is completely wanting in India. Though efforts are being made to narrow down the gap between the restricted life of the prison and free life outside it by resorting to open institutions for inmates, the lack of active public participation hampers the success of these measures.
The offenders who are not a potential risk to society are being released on furlough and parole after they have undergone a certain period of imprisonment. Yet, there is greater need for active public co-operation in the field of probation as the offender has to seek his reformation within the society itself and the probation officers are merely to help him occasionally at certain stages.
Experience with probation in India has not been very encouraging. The application of probation service in this country has rather been fragmentary and therefore, ineffective. Barring a few States, notably, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, probation has remained a matter of speculation and rare application. Adult probation, in particular has remained fairly neglected and needs to be implemented with rigour and attention. It is high time when working of probation in India must be restructured to make the system more effective and result-oriented.
The success of probation as a non-institutional therapeutic measure would mainly depend on its cautious extension and judicious adaptation to adults. A well organised team of trained probation personnel having aptitude and real zeal for this kind of work and active co-operation of various agencies such as welfare boards, voluntary social workers and correctional institutions can certainly make probation a real success in India.
It should, however, be remembered that mere letting off by the Courts to keep convicted persons out of penal institutions would not serve any useful purpose unless adequate alternatives for those who need a measure of restraint for their own reformation as also for the security of the public are embodied in the scheme.
The reform and rehabilitation processes have to be worked out in context of existing social conditions and for the benefit of the society as a whole. If reformation in fact benefits the society, the conscience of social justice would be satisfied. But if the reformation confines to the benefit of the individual offender alone, social justice shall remain suffocated. This sound note of warning should be the guiding theme of probation scheme which is essentially a part of reformative justice.