Touria Prayag's Blog

L’express Weekly, 8 July 2011

Posted in Uncategorized by touriaprayag on July 8, 2011

Weekly 8july

The ins and outs of prison

No, the splendid bouquet in the stylish vase embellishing the
Commissioner of Prisons’ offi ce was not made in-house. The
Commissioner volunteered the information to a question we
did not openly ask. He obviously sensed that the compliment
we offered as we walked into his offi ce was perhaps not innocent. Not that
the Commissioner is not a fi erce advocate of rehabilitation and preparing
the inmates to integrate the community and stay away from prison. So why
85% of prisoners are almost doomed to go back?
From the outside, things look very simple, as they usually do in theory:
you teach inmates a skill, they practice it in prison, you provide counseling
and when they come out of jail, they become useful members of society.
Once inside, however, you come face to face with a harsh reality: most of
the offenders end up in jail for drug-related problems. Drugs keep fl owing
in perhaps more freely than outside and everyone knows how diffi cult it is
to be weaned off drugs in a place where supply is plentiful. Where there are
huge amounts of money involved, there is temptation as well as fear, and
morality fl ies out the window.
The problems are compounded by the lack of space and resources.
The prisoners are, therefore, put together almost irrespective of the type
of crime they have committed. Some fi nd themselves in custody for the
wrong reasons. Once they have left the “crime university” and have been
hooked on drugs, they are fully qualifi ed to come again, this time for the
right reasons. The problem the prison authorities have to juggle is a choice
between security and rehabilitation. Let’s remember in all fairness how
hard we came down on them when there was a jailbreak. And, for any rehabilitation,
you need to be able to trust the inmates with the appropriate
tools to be used in any skill they may be taught. Considering the limited
resources, to what extent can drug users and traffi ckers be trusted with
potentially dangerous tools?
Also, if drugs are our major problem, the fi ght against crime cannot
be won in prison alone. It has to be fought on all fronts by all of us. There
are drug addicts on our streets trying to support a Rs. 250-a-day habit
through mugging, burglary, stealing or some more violent crime. There are
unscrupulous and ruthless pushers in the vicinity of some school campuses
trying to hook our children on drugs. We cannot fi ght the problem simply
by putting everyone in jail at the cost of Rs 700 a prisoner a day! We either
give up on our streets, our children and our peace, or we make the fi ght
ours and reclaim our neighbourhoods, schools and families.
First, we have to push for the Asset Recovery Act to be promulgated as
soon as possible! What exactly are we waiting for? Depriving criminals of
their ill-gotten money is a major step in the fi ght. But we, as a community,
also need to do our homework and look for models that have worked in
other countries. The “good” thing is that we are not the fi rst country to
confront this problem. The bad news is that while citizens in other countries
have taken up the fi ght through community-based programmes, we are
spending an inordinate amount of energy trying to legislate people’s sexual
behaviour and making sure that the state has a way into citizens’ bedrooms
and a say in the way they derive sexual satisfaction. It is time we got our
priorities right and decided on the kind of society we want to live in!


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