The Public Accounts Committee of the Delhi Assembly in its first report on the functioning of Prison Department and management of jails in Delhi has recommended that the department prepare a short-term vision to tackle the problem of overcrowding by the year 2010.

The report, which was tabled in the House on Tuesday, stated that a committee should be constituted to monitor the progress of work and to take all the necessary steps to ensure timely completion of the Mandoli jail that would have a capacity for about 3,500 inmates and is expected to be completed by 2010 end.

The PAC, chaired by Prahlad Singh Sawhney, has noted that this committee must also study all the aspects in advance and work towards avoiding delay on account of subsequent changes in concept, design and projected requirements.

The panel has also called for formulating a long-term vision to completely end overcrowding of prisons by 2020. It has called for a realistic approach in this regard keeping in mind factors like “rapidly increasing population, crime rate, criminal justice police and occurrence of delays in prison construction programmes’’.

Demanding that top priority should be accorded by the department for construction of new prisons and other infrastructural improvements, the PAC suggested an inter-departmental mechanism along with the PWD, DDA and other agencies for speedy processing of proposals.

The Committee also noted that “the overuse of pre-trial detention, lengthy and strict sentencing practices contribute to prison overcrowding,” and called for using “pre-trial detention as a means of last resort in criminal proceedings.”

Besides, it said, certain offences should be decriminalised and alternatives to imprisonment should be designed to deal with such cases.

To ease overcrowding, the House panel also recommended that legal aid workers should identify prisoners in need of legal aid, educate them and help them in getting released on bail.

The panel also asked the Government to fill up the vacancies of prison department to overcome shortage of custodial, medical and para-medical staff.

The Committee also took the first ever visit to a department when it visited Tihar Jail on November 20. There the Director-General (Prisons) B. K. Gupta informed the members that while the recommended staff to inmate ratio was 1:6, in Tihar the ratio was 1:12 as 433 of the 1,357 posts were lying vacant and the jail was overcrowded.

Besides the new infrastructure, the Committee members also took a first hand account of the availability of drinking water through the RO system, library, cable TV, satellite radio, indoor games and canteen facilities. These facilities, the report said, “convinced the Committee to believe that the jail authorities are sincerely following Mahatma Gandhi’s thought: ‘Hate the crime and not the criminal’.”

The panel has asked the Prison Department to submit its action taken report within three months.

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