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Open Prison: A Radical Reform

Whether it is Yakub Memon or Soapy from The Cop and Anthem by O Henry, Prison holds a very dual meaning. While the death penalty should not have been sentenced to the former as dying is pretty much the intention in terrorism, prison meant home for the latter. The consequence that follows a criminal act is punishment and there come the four stages grouped by Foucault in Discipline and Punish – Torture, Punishment, Discipline, and Prison without considering the unintended consequences. There are majorly four theories of punishment. These theories are the deterrent theory, penal theory, preventive theory, and reformative theory.

Foucault stated the intended purposes for all four stages, but is it necessary for the countries to be so hellbent on the last stage, which is prison? Should we not focus more on the individual’s growth and opt for a reformative approach? Foucault also described public torture as a ceremony in which several parties participate, and the conclusions of the magistrates were justified by the publicity of torture. One such brutal interrogative torture has been shown in the true American documentary on Netflix – ‘Unbelievable.’ In the miniseries, a teenager is charged with lying about being raped until two detectives follow the path to truth. The add-on from this example is sometimes violent interrogations alter the fact. Opting for a reformative approach may be tomfoolery in certain exceptional cases, but the non-existence of a healthy environment that promotes growth among prisoners is mortifying.


To contradict the retributive punishment in all ways possible, Rajasthan in Northern India has adopted the open prison model to help transform the lives of inmates. Not only is it progressive, but it also addresses the issue of overcrowding while being cost-effective at the same time. The open jail not only provides liberation with no high walls or strict surveillance but skill training programs have also been made available to help inmates earn their livelihoods. Prisoners who have served one-third of their sentences are eligible to shift to open jails, according to the Rajasthan Prisoners’ Open Air Camp Rules of 1972. So far, incidents of prisoners trying to escape or committing the same offense again have not been reported. Prisoners are also free to leave the camp and move freely in the nearby town in the daytime after the first roll call. Another roll call is done every evening by when they must be back on campus.


Similarly, a 144-year-old Indiana state prison has cats adopted by inmates, and their companionship has brought several advantages, like keeping the inmates’ behavior in line. If a cat’s company can transform its behavior, imagine the power a socially functional environment holds. The latter can further facilitate the integration of prisoners into society by ensuring their stay in a social setting. The advantages of open prison are many, but should Rajasthan’s open prison be replicated across the country?


Cost-effectiveness and construction ease.

Using comparative data between Jaipur central prison and Sanganer open prison, Officials said open prisons are “not resource intensive” but rather “cost-effective,” which is where the need to create even more open prisons arises. The data also point out the monetary and management expenses, which are way lesser than that of closed prisons. According to the data, the cost per prisoner in Jaipur central prison is ₹7,094 per month, whereas the price at the Sanganer open prison is just ₹500 per month. The data also notes that the construction of open camps is much easier than age-old closed prisons as the former does not require a vast area, and it can also be built as a prisoner village. These open prisons are built in remote areas where prisoners can also engage in agriculture and forest conservation work. Officials also suggested it be made as a housing complex, with each building having three or four stories in which families can be accommodated in flats which is problematic on many levels as it would shut the opportunities of engaging in agriculture work.


A life of dignity and self-respect.

The skill training of jail inmates in Rajasthan has received a boost, with the State Skill and Livelihoods Development Corporation identifying more skills areas for them. New training partners have also been invited to work with the Jails Department. Many skill-based programs are being taught in open prisons, enabling the inmates to form new skill sets and have a life worth living; boredom affects everyone. Some skill training programs include vermiculture, vermicomposting, nursery management, and so on. The idea behind this initiative was to provide them with financial support, as many of them are first-time criminals and victims of circumstances. Having some work to look forward to also helps with the holistic growth of a person. Now, one must raise the question of unequal wages, which is an endemic problem that prisoners face regardless of the work they are involved in. According to hosting institutions, the reason for paying prisoners less is that they are already providing housing to them. The statement comes from a misplaced understanding, later corrected by Prison Aid and Action Research (PAAR) founder Smita Chakraborty, “Imprisonment is imposed by the law which the prisoner is obliged to abide by. To deduct rent from prisoners for a stay in prison from the wages paid to the prisoner is not an acceptable practice as it translates into exploitation. It is suggested that the prisoners be paid equal wages for equal work that the institution pays to private workers. And if the institution only gets the work done by prisoners, then they should maintain standard sector rate for wages of prisoners, which should not be below the minimum wages standardized by the government.”

A necessity for women, aged, physically infirm undertrials.

The open prison facility is also extended to women undertrials to help them “sustain ties with family and children.” The officials may also include pregnant women prisoners, women with young children, women with disability, aged prisoners, physically infirm prisoners, and prisoners involved in first-time accidental offenses. Not every prisoner is eligible for staying in an open prison as it only covers low-risk prisoners and those who have not shown any violent traits while waiting in jail as undertrials. The practice of open prison is only a trust-based concept that will slowly gain attention as reformation is far better than retributive punishment.

A massive reduction in prison overcrowding.

Overcrowding is a very unnoticed aspect of closed prisons, with most jails having 70% undertrial prisoners and 30% convicted prisoners on average. Undertrial prisoners are one of the significant causes of overcrowding. Still, if convicted prisoners are allowed to stay in an open prison after a certain amount of time, it will also reduce prison overcrowding. 

The objective of the open prison scheme is to put light on the reformative approach and to ‘encourage good behavior among convicted prisoners.’ A healthy environment will also help the prisoners start afresh and aid in their social reintegration. About 81% of the convicts are first-time offenders, and 57% are victims of circumstances, so they should be extended the facility on priority. Chakraburtty also justified the extended scheme for undertrials by saying, “They stand on a better footing than convicts, as they are mere suspects who are incarcerated pending investigation/trial.” The officials also called for drawing a “fine balance” between the right to liberty and presumption of innocence on the one hand and a proper investigation along with the security of the victim and public interest on the other. “This goal can be best achieved in an open jail scenario as the very idea of staying under a minimal restriction regime would have the least impact on the basic human rights of undertrials.”

Reformative over Retributive.

The idea of an open prison is based on the overall development of an individual and valuing the scope of change. It is a prison without bars which naturally highlights the impeccable trust authorities are putting in prisoners. The entirety of this reform stands on the principle of self-governance and self-discipline, which is rehabilitative. Chakraburtty also added that if the system is encouraged, accepted, and expanded across the country, it has the potential to not only change the prison system but also have a significant impact on crime and recidivism and eventually help eradicate the disciplinary form of punishment. Justice Lokur has also urged the Centre to take the lead in formulating guidelines for open prison camps, as implementing open prisons across the country is equivalent to executing the humanitarian idea.

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