Social acceptance and domination by the spouse forcing a hapless woman to deviance are twin challenges

Crime itself is not a disease though it may be due to disease. This is perfectly true in respect of women in conflict with law. Tamil Nadu is one of the few States where women inmates are housed in prisons exclusively built for them, keeping in view their special requirements. The prison is also supervised fully by women officials. The total strength of women inmates in the country is 14,657 and the average in Tamil Nadu is about 1,000 which is about six per cent of the total prison population in the State.

Issues relating to women inmates can be categorised as — admission, classification, the reformation programme, vocational training, health and hygiene, psychological and emotional issues, visitors and emergency leave, rehabilitation on release, re-socialisation and acceptance. Women prisoners on admission are in a mentally disturbed condition. Nearly 60 per cent of inmates suffer from various issues of mental health like psychosis, major depressions and personality disorder.

Women prisoners undergo intensive emotional stress due to separation from their families. A study of the age profile of the inmates in Tamil Nadu prisons reveals that of the total 1,000 inmates about 200 are in the age group 20 to 30 years, which is the child bearing age for women.

Almost 350 inmates are in the age group 30 to 40 years where they have young, growing children who are deprived of the emotional support of the mother.

Gender specific issues

In a landmark judgment in the Upadhyay Vs. State of Andhra Pradesh case, gender specific issues of women have been dealt with in detail and minimum standards laid for the care of the mother and the child. In pursuance of this, women inmates are allowed to keep their children up to six years of age. Pregnant women in prisons have to be given proper pre-natal and post-natal care.

Children born during incarceration shall be registered in the local birth registration office to avoid the stigma of childbirth in prison. A survey has revealed that women prisoners have a fatalistic attitude towards their imprisonment, which they feel that they suffer as they have not obeyed the advice of elders.

They blame their husbands or male companions, who have forced them to criminal life. They are concerned about their children’s future and are on guilt trip that they are not able to take care of their children. They fear that their children may succumb to wayward habits, leading to inter-generational crime. However, in the case of male inmates they blame their parents for the plight.

Most of the inmates are from the poor strata of society and are subject to personality and physical abuse right from childhood. Once they give birth to children, their husbands begin to neglect them and look elsewhere for their sexual needs. This adds to neglect, a feeling of loneliness, insecurity and emotional trauma. The social stigma attached to a woman prisoner is much worse compared to a man inmate.

Visit by families is also few and far between. They are rarely consulted on important family decisions. Children are mostly neglected or, in some instances, taken care of by blood relatives, who are reluctant to meet them due to societal stigma.

An analysis of the crime profile of women prisoners in Tamil Nadu reveals that of the 172 convicted inmates, 127 are involved in murder cases which are mostly crimes of passion and not premeditated. Of the 800 inmates who are under-trials, nearly 50 per cent are involved in illicit liquor and drug offences. In the dowry cases, women in the age group 50 years and above are involved. Rehabilitation and social integration are two other crucial imperatives, which should receive focused attention of correctional administration and also of civil society.

It has to be ensured that on release the woman prisoner is not placed in vulnerable positions with a high risk of reverting to crime. Substance abuse is not such a significant problem as in western countries or in most of the Asian countries. Social acceptance and domination by the spouse forcing a hapless woman to deviance are two major challenges to correctional administration.

(The writer is Director General of Police/Director, Fire and Rescue Services, Tamil Nadu.)

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