Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde on Tuesday favoured exploring alternative modes of punishment to convicts, saying sending such people to jail have many adverse effects, including trauma for their children and family.
Addressing the Asian and Pacific Conference of Correctional Administrators in New Delhi, he said the society’s expectations from the criminal justice system, particularly from the prison and correctional administration, are wide, varied and sometimes even being in conflict with each other.
Mr. Shinde said in most countries, imprisonment is the main punitive measure imposed on individuals who have been convicted of criminal offence.
“However, overemphasis on imprisonment has many adverse effects. It not only adversely affects the individuals, but also the families. The trauma of the imprisonment of a member of the family together with economic factors causes tremendous pressure on the families,” he told the conference being attended by representatives from 20 countries of the Asian Pacific region and from the states and Union Territories in India.
The Home Minister said alternative modes of punishment should also be considered and implemented.
He said it was also important that activities focusing on vulnerable groups, including children, women, and prisoners with special needs, should also be included in prison reform programmes.
Mr. Shinde said prisons are a state subject in India but the central government realises its responsibility to improve the physical conditions of these institutions.
“With this in view the government of India have provided funds under the centrally sponsored schemes for creating better facilities and more humane living conditions in these institutions throughout the country,” he said.
The Home Minister said he was aware of the problems and challenges that confront the correctional service system of the country as a majority of the people lodged in prisons belong to the under-privileged sections of the society.
Mr. Shinde said most of the prisoners consist of first time offenders involved in technical or minor violations of the law and constitute 90 per cent of the prison population. Roughly two-thirds are under-trials and this ratio has remained constant.
“The occupancy rate was 112.2 per cent in 2012 which has come down gradually from a high of 145.4 per cent in 2005. The incarceration rate in India per lakh of population is 32 prisoners in comparison with 130 in Australia, 149 in U.K. and 716 in U.S. In fact, in U.S. roughly 1 per cent of their population is incarcerated!” he said.