Deepavali is the festival of lights, it is a symbol of triumph of good over evil, to move from darkness to the light.  Ever, since I have taken charge of Prison Department as Inspector General of Prisons this year, I have embarked with new hope on path of Reformation and Rehabilitation.

 Hitherto, the purpose of Prison Administration was perceived as carrying out sentences awarded to the inmates, confine them in prisons without hope for better life. Most inmates got further drawn into the life of crime and negativity.  They learn new skills in the dark, dreary prison environment to commit even more crimes after release.  No Wonder, prisons used to be called university of crimes.  Not anymore.

               Over the year Prison Department has worked assiduously to improve infrastructure, living conditions, sanitation, food and health of inmates.  With construction of New Central Prison, at Kalapet, Puducherry Administration showed its commitment to improve conditions of inmates serving sentences or lodged as undertrials.  However, we must look beyond these basic needs and provide conducive environment for new learning, skill up-gradation, cultural enrichment, spiritual and meditational teachings to achieve lasting changes in inmates’ life.  Once inmate comes out of the prison, he or she should be able to lead normal crime-free life and be re-integrated in the society as a respectable citizen.  To achieve this objective Prison System itself has to transform from a place of Incarceration to a place of learning:- A school, A Gurukal.

           This is no easy task to achieve and requires sustained commitment from all stake holders:-  The inmates, prison officials, the administration, the Judiciary and of course the Society.  The process of Reforms has to be driven by the ‘Cs Model’ therefore Collective, Corrective and Community.

As Hon’ble Lt. Governor Dr. Kiran Bedi in her address to Prison Officials eleborated, the Prison Officials should become from Guard to Guardian.  No longer they guard the Inmates but also become their guardian to mentor them in new learning environment.  The Role changes from negative to a positive in helping inmates to take advantage of Reformation process in the Prison.

As a part of transformation of the prison to a school, Prison Department has initiated a process of structured daily routine.

A Sustained Reformation Process requires a structured approach.  Inmates have been grouped into a Panchayats with each having 15 to 20 members led by a Panchayatdar and a Mentor-Warder.  Those inmates who have attained higher degree of proficiency in certain areas are also part of specific Panchayats organizing activities.  Examples are Teacher Panchayat, Legal Panchayat, Yoga Panchayat, Mess Panchayat, Sanitation Panchayat, Cultural Panchayat, etc.  This has inculcated a sense of ownership of the Reforms Initiative.

All inmates have to start the day with Morning Yoga Exercise and prayer.  Once breakfast, bathing etc are over, inmates attend to their assigned classes from 0830 am.  From 09.30 am inmates have option to attend further classes or to work in various activities arranged with help of skilled inmates, NGOs or trainers from other organisations with community involvement.  The classes continue in the afternoon followed by spiritual, cultural and recreational Programme at 04.30 pm.

                The response from inmates and prison officials have been tremendous.  Mobile petition box system introduced indicates the changing environment.  Complaints have given way to request for programs / training and wage earning work.  Inmates find themselves creatively busy in various activities and have less time for negative energies.  Consequently the burden on Watch and Ward is also reduced.  Colourful paintings on the prison wall have enlivened the dull atmosphere.  Creative artifacts and handicraft products shows their tremendous potential.  Their enthusiasm shows in the regular meetings conducted by IG Prisons along with Prison Officials.

                It is heartening to note that many NGOs like Aurobindo Society, PMSS, Sahaja Yoga, Sharana have come forward to help Prison Administration in its reformation process.  They have organized wall painting therapy session, sports activities, workshops on various skills / trades Yoga and spiritual discoursed.  They have helped inmates unleash their positive energy and creativity. 

Teachers have come forward to take classes for inmates and to train them in various trades.  NGOs have also proposed to start production units of various handicraft items and innovative products.  Prison Administration has proposed a new brand name “Freedom” and a new logo for its products.

                As a part of reformation process, Prison Department also ensure that no inmate is confined for want of adequate legal help.  Free legal Aid is provided during routine counseling.  The legal Panchayat consisting of inmates, some of whom are Law students, helps inmates in understanding the legal process and draft appropriate petitions.  A better understanding of the case helps in restoring faith of inmates in Judicial process and its fairness while also securing quick release from prison.

                The security aspect cannot be overstressed.  By concentrating on hardcore inmates in a separate process, maintaining a different routine for them, engaging in individual counseling by trained experts, the desired security can be achieved.  This also reduces their hold on other inmates.  When normal inmates are involved in an organized leadership efforts / teaching, training, arranging for sanitation / repair as part of the Panchayat their self-esteem increases.  This makes their less prone to negative influences of hardcore inmates. The possibility of interaction also reduces as each and every inmates is engaged in some activities in the prescribed daily routine

Nevertheless, these hardcore inmates require extra efforts from prison officials to bring them to reform process.  Prison Officials must remain on guard while dealing with them and not compromise on safety, security and integrity.

Prison Administration shall also arrange to connect released inmates with the respective Beat Police.  They shall be informed about the additional skills acquired and find better way to re-integrate in the society.  The trinity of beat police, NGOs and inmates will create a eco system in which released inmate shall find his respect, dignity, self esteem and gainful employment away from the path of criminality.

 Reform process is continuous and may require course correction to achieve desired objective of Reformation and re-integration.  We shall be open to feedback and course correction in the reform process,

I hope all Prison Officials and Inmates shall strive to create the positive environment of reforms and make prison a truly learning Institution for all stake holders i.e. Inmates / Prison Officials and the Community / NGOs.

                That is the true message of Deepavali.  (Tamso maa Jyotirgamayah.)

(Pankaj Kumar Jha)