Says Kerala DGP in reply to RTI query

How many innocent people are lodged in prisons across Kerala? About 40 per cent of the inmates are not guilty of any crime, says a reply from the office of the Director General of Prisons and Correctional Services to a query asked under provisions of the Right to Information (RTI) Act.

The Director General, Alexander Jacob, said at a public function in Kannur on September 13 that 20 per cent of the inmates were innocent.

The State Public Information Officer of Prisons and Correctional Services, Joy Sebastina Pushpam, however, said the actual figure was 40 per cent.

“The DGP is a man of few words and he kept restraint in revealing the whole picture. He limited the percentage at 20 to keep restraint. The actual figure is 40 per cent,” the reply issued by him says.

Many innocent people have landed behind bars because circumstantial evidence turned against them, it says. Another significant section of innocent prisoners are volunteers recruited by political parties and other organisations to undergo jail term on behalf of the culprits.

D.B. Binu of the Kochi-based Human Rights Defence Forum used the RTI Act to get clarity on the statement made by Mr. Jacob when addressing a meeting organised in Kannur by a cultural organisation, Alaap, to distribute prizes to winners in a literary competition for inmates.

“Twenty per cent of the jail inmates have committed no crime. Lack of proper legal aid, along with strong circumstantial evidence, has landed them behind bars. There are many who opt for a jail term on the dictates of political parties which want the real culprits to go scot-free,” Mr. Jacob said at the meeting.

The RTI reply says the number of prison inmates in Kerala was 4,663 till September.

“The conviction rate in Kerala is 65 per cent. We have information that 1,632 among the 4,663 prisoners are innocent. Among the under-trial prisoners, 98 are mentally challenged persons. Their trial would be started only when their doctors certify that they are fit for trial. Families of mentally challenged accused often refuse to get them on bail. These mentally challenged people can be considered innocent,” the reply says.

“There are 60 people in different jails under provisions of preventive arrest. As per law, they can’t be called criminals. So they too are innocent. There are eight children in different jails and two of them are living with their convicted mothers. Six are with under-trial mothers. They also come under the category of innocent in Kerala jails.”

Asked about the steps taken by the Director General of Prisons to get the innocent prisoners freed of charges, the information officer said the Kerala Prison Rules did not allow him to sort out innocent people and to release them. “Freeing them is the prerogative of courts. Lawyers and social workers can play a role in it,” the reply says.

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