Rehabilitation of prison is always in the agenda when it comes to a new election for most democracies. For example, in 2016 in the US Presidential election, both the Democrat and Republican parties included mentions of criminal justice reforms for non-violent offenders despite maintaining a strong stance on being tough for every crime for decades.
Similarly, in the UK, for the 2017 general elections, the three major parties, the Conservatives, Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats all had various propositions to transform prisons into places of rehabilitation, recovery, learning and work and insisted on personal rehabilitation plans for all prisoners.
Then-US President, Donald Trump, signed into law, a bipartisan measure that both parties kept in high priority, justice reforms which would allow non-violent offenders to re-enter the society, as law-abiding citizens trying to reduce crime in the country.
Despite all this, major Indian political parties, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress, demonstrate a lack of will, vision and commitment toward welfare and rehabilitation of prisoners.
A major problem revolving around prison reformers and administrators throughout history is the various reasons people are imprisoned, which often turns into a conflict.
For example, numerous experts suggest that strict punishments and longer sentences do not necessarily reduce crime. In addition, the failure to reform many prisoners shows the difficulty in managing and helping convicts change their ways, while subjecting them to the harsh realities of their prison life.
This subjects prisoners to subhuman living conditions, poor hygiene and violent clashes among many other problems associated with life as a convict. While 33% of the total requirement of prison officials still remains vacant, India’s inability to increase the number of police personnel to the UN prescribed standards of 222/lakh is rather appalling (India’s police personnel strength is currently 181/lakh population).
Challenges in prison reforms
The prison reforms are a state affair
With the prison reforms being a state-held subject, it is very hard for national political parties to get the support of state parties that stand as competition for state assembly elections. This in itself comes down to the issues that demonstrate the lack of will or vision towards the welfare and rehabilitation of the convicts.
The 29 states have absolute discretion when it comes to spending the public’s tax money on educational and vocational programmes. This brings correctional services down the pecking order when it comes to budget priorities.
Even though prison reforms prove cost-effective in the long run, governments often do not push forward with these reforms and are reluctant to experiment, due to the lack of certainty regarding their effectiveness.
The absence of prison reforms in the manifestos of the major national political parties comes down to the fact that these political leaderships find prison rehabilitation as an expensive affair. It is true that prison reforms do cost lot at first, but criminologists have shown that these reforms do reduce the rate of re-offending, hence reducing prison population in the long run.
Policymakers are not aware of the fiscal benefits of prison reforms
Educational, vocational and cognitive-behaviour therapy programmes help decrease the likelihood of inmates re-offending, they also allow ex-convicts to gain the necessary skills required to find work outside the prison, which in turn boosts the economy.
With fewer people returning to prison, as released inmates will not return to prison custody, jail authorities require lesser finances for the incarceration of inmates, thus resulting in direct fiscal benefits for the state.
Fear of appearing soft towards crime
The Indian public slightly seems supportive of punitive measures towards offenders, especially serious crime offenders. This weighs in on politicians often advocating a “get-tough” attitude towards crime. In their attempt to fight crime, especially after the 2012 Delhi gang rape case, harsher punishments have been India’s policy.
This is based on the simple notion that stricter punishment and penalties would serve as a deterrent to criminals and would-be offenders. With the substantial portion of the population advocating an uncompromised approach towards crime, political parties seeking re-election will neither speak against the will of the voters nor speak up of the injustices in the prison with the fear of being labelled as “soft towards crime”.
However, there is one major issue that needs to be addressed when it comes to locking up all convicts together, be in serious crime offenders or petty non-violent offenders under trial. This almost certainly guarantees an increase in repeat offenders through the violent influence among convicts. The hard reality is that unless we enhance such corrective measures and prison reforms, the biggest losers will always inevitably be the state government who invest crores in maintaining and keeping prisoners locked up.
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