Mumbai Local

Why parole should not be banned

The Maharashtra government’s decision to ban the granting of parole to prisoners convicted of rape and murder is a highly myopic decision. In the wake the absconding of Sajjad Mogul, convicted in the murder of lawyer Pallavi Purkayastha, after having been granted parole, public perception seems to be that granting parole to prisoners is an act of leniency which should not apply to hardened offenders.

To understand why parole should not be seen thus, one must first understand the principle of separation of powers between different arms of the state in a democracy, which ensure that governance is based on checks and balances.

In the criminal justice system, this principle plays out in the police playing the role of the investigator, the courts playing the role of the adjudicator, and prisons and correctional institutions playing the role of ensuring the custody and rehabilitation of the offender. Correctional theory and management is based on the reformative and rehabilitative principles; otherwise offenders would return to society without the original problem of their deviant behaviour having been addressed.

The granting of parole, furlough, remission and premature release has been put in place in consonance with UN guidelines and progressive correctional theory. These also act as powerful tools in the hands of prison administrators, to ensure disciplined behaviour from prisoners. And they ensure that prisoners do not lose touch with their families and their community. Prison administrators use these tools based on the assessment of individual factors in each case. Parole is usually granted to attend to emergency situations at home, or on humanitarian grounds, as well as to strengthen family ties (crucial from the point of view of rehabilitation).

Precautions are taken to ensure that parolees do not abscond. For instance, by calling for a police report from the area of the parolee’s residence and a good conduct report from the superintendent of the prison, and making parole subject to sureties and agreements in writing, from a family member or close relative, to keep the parolee in his or her house.

Such facilities can be misused through use of influence or corruption. But this holds true for all laws and systems. One case of bad judgment should not become the yardstick for changing policies without a careful analysis of the overall scenario. To my understanding, the percentage of parolees absconding is far too small to warrant such drastic steps. Chris Dornin, social researcher and founder of Citizens for Criminal Justice Reform in the U.S., wrote a piece for entitled ‘Facts and Fiction about Sex Offenders’, which summarises low repeat behaviour by sex offenders in study after study. He quotes from research studies that demonstrate that crime victimisation can be reduced when sex offenders successfully re-enter the community and get rehabilitated.

Lumping all persons convicted of rape, murder or other such heinous crimes in the same basket will only add to the crisis in our prisons, which are overcrowded, understaffed and often mismanaged. Such blanket orders, taking away discretionary powers from prison authorities, are akin to ruling out the possibility of certain class of offenders ever returning to society as responsible citizens. For instance, rape convicts include ‘love affair’ cases; for example, two teenagers running away from home and having consensual sex, but the girl being under 18, and therefore a minor, the boy is convicted of rape. Similarly, many murders are cases of ‘heat of the moment’ crimes; for instance, a fight over land between cousins in a feudal society. Would we like to view such offenders as criminals undeserving of reformative methods like parole?

This decision will, in the long run, make it difficult for prison authorities to motivate such prisoners to maintain good behaviour while in prison, in the absence of incentives.

The stick alone will not bring the desired change; one needs the carrot as well.

Professor Vijay Raghavan is Dean, Social Protection Office, Centre for Criminology and Justice, School of Social Work

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Printable version | May 7, 2021 8:25:04 AM |

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