“A historic moment in centenary year of Women’s Day”

India’s first open jail for women was inaugurated at the Yerawada Central Prison here on Sunday by Maharashtra Home Minister R.R. Patil.

Addressing a gathering of prisoners, politicians and police officials, Principal Secretary (Home) of the Prisons department Medha Gadgil termed the measure a “historic moment” unfolding in the centenary year of the International Women’s Day.

During the winter session of the Assembly last year, MLC Mohan Joshi raised a question about starting an open jail for women.

Male prisoners had the facilities of an open jail at the prisons in Yerawada, Aurangabad, Paithan and Morshi. Mr. Patil then announced that an open jail for women would be opened at Yerawada on January 26, 2010. However, due to the model code of conduct in place because of the elections to the Legislative Council, it could not happen.

Initially, 50 out of the 500 women prisoners lodged in the Byculla (in Mumbai) and Yerawada (in Pune) jails would be selected for the open jail, said Ms. Gadgil. The number would be increased in future.

Inspector-General (Prisons) Uddhav Kamble said women in the open jail would be made to do agricultural work on the 17 acres of land adjoining the prison. This would improve their physical and mental wellbeing. They would also be eligible for remission in their punishment; for every one year served in the open jail, a year of their sentence would be reduced.

Additionally, they would also be trained in other skills such as candle-making, screen printing, etc. to help them start a new life after being released from jail.

Mr. Kamble said a proposal for increasing the term under life sentence from 14-16 years to 40-60 years had been forwarded to the Centre and the High Court.

“Those convicted of heinous crimes like murder and anti-India activities planned in other countries would then not be able to laugh at the slowness of the judicial processes or revel in the government’s hospitality,” Mr. Kamble said.

He also enlisted a number of prison reforms. An amount of Rs. 5,000 given to prisoners on their release would be increased.

Three more prisons were needed in the State as the existing ones were packed to capacity.

In order to save on human and financial resources spent while taking prisoners to court, videoconferencing facilities would be provided.

Out of the 23,000 people in jails in the State, only 8,000 were convicts, Mr. Kamble said.

More prison guards, attendants and officials would be recruited and greater access to the judicial system would be ensured for prisoners.