Recommending drastic reforms in the jail administration in Punjab, the report on prison reforms has recommended bringing down the number of jails from the existing 26 to only nine in the state as well as establishing a "Prisons Corporation" headed by the head of the Prisons department.
The report, which was submitted to the state government by Punjab's Advisor (Jails) AP Bhatnagar on Wednesday, has recommended to set up five new prisons at Kapurthala (5,000), Nabha (5,000), Talwandi Bhai of Ferozepur (2,500), Amritsar (2,500) and Bathinda (1,000) – at new sites on the outskirts of these towns.
Laying considerable stress on re-configurating and consolidating the prisons, the report has also emphasised the need to upgrade the jails at Ludhiana, Hoshiarpur, Gurdaspur and Sangrur. Keeping in view a large number of mentally unsound inmates in Punjab jails, Bhatnagar has recommended earmarking the Sangrur jail having a capacity of 500 prisoners specifically for the mentally ill prisoners so that they could be provided proper medical facilities in the jail itself.
The report has suggested dismantling all other jails in the state and disposing off the jail property as well as prime land in the heart of various cities to generate funds for the setting up of new prisons. The entire process of jails reforms should be handed over to the Prisons Corporation, said the report, adding that it would help speed up the much-required jail reforms.
It may be mentioned that after a petition was filed on jail reforms, the Punjab Council of Ministers had directed the state government in January 2006 to prepare a blue print for the jail reforms so as to ensure efficient administration in the jails.
As per the report, the main idea behind setting up of the Prisons Corporation is to run correctional and rehabilitational programmes for the inmates. "The corporation will be able to enter into arrangements with the private sector for ensuring good quality of products as well as its marketing. The profit from the industrial work of the prisons will be divided into three parts – one part for wages of the prisoners, one part for running the corporation and third part to go as contribution towards the victim relief," it says.
According to Bhatnagar, the corporation will be able to successfully run correctional and rehabilitational programmes on self-sustaining basis and thus the financial burden on the government for running the prisons department will be substantially reduced.
The report says that there is an immediate need to change the mindset of prison officials towards correction and rehabilitation of convicts from the old practice of seeking retribution for the crimes of the criminals in custody; modernize prison infrastructure so that it becomes an effective tool to achieve the objective of correction and rehabilitation of offenders and reconfigurate prisons to make administration of prisons cost effective and more secure.
Bhatnagar's report also contains recommendations regarding requirement of legal changes, including need for a new prisons act, a new prison manual, guidelines for the management of mentally ill prisoners, with a view to changing the approach of the government and bureaucracy involved in the administration of offenders, held in custody in various jails in Punjab, for their reformation.
There is a separate chapter in which emphasis has been laid on how to administer women prisoners, need for seeking alternatives to imprisonment, how to provide leadership in the Prisons department and for setting up a permanent Prisons Commissions for Punjab.
The idea for setting up the Commission has been taken from the Draft Manual Policy on Prisons Reforms and Correctional Administration prepared by the Bureau of Police Research and Development. The main role of the commission will be to ensure proper and uniform development of the prisons in the state. The Prisons Commission will be a specialised body to advise the government on all matters relating to prisons and allied services.