With Parliament approving a more stringent juvenile justice bill that allows 16-to-18-year-olds accused of heinous crimes such as rape and murder to be tried as adults, the government has begun work on the next step of this key rehabilitation policy.
The women and child development ministry has approved the setting up of 36 borstals or observation homes across India where such juveniles will be kept post-conviction, instead of in regular prisons, till they turn 21.
“After that, his case will be reviewed by the Juvenile Justice Board. If the board feels there is still scope to reform the 21-year-old, he will be sent back to a borstal. Otherwise, he will have to go to an adult prison,” said a ministry official.
Presently, all juvenile (under-18) offenders are kept in reform homes, irrespective of the severity of their crime. They can be confined for a maximum of three years.
“We don’t think it is prudent to put all of them together. A day after the juvenile justice bill was passed in Rajya Sabha, we approved the proposal to set up 36 borstals or observation homes across India,” women and child development minister Maneka Gandhi told HT.
The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Bill 2015 was cleared by Parliament on Tuesday — two days after the release of the Delhi gang-rape juvenile convict, whose case was a major contributing factor to the change in law. The bill is now awaiting presidential assent to become law. Under it, 16-to-18-year-olds involved in heinous crimes can be tried as adults and be sentenced to up to seven years in jail.
Borstals aren’t much different from the current juvenile reform homes, though. “Its just a change in nomenclature. The facilities will be more or less the same. Borstals are also correctional centres where such boys would be provided education, vocational training and psychological counseling. The supervision, however, would be stricter as they would have inmates involved in crimes like rape and murder. The idea is to provide an environment where such young offenders can be reformed,” said another ministry official.
Unlike prisons, there will be no cells or solitary confinement in borstals. Common in other countries, this is the first time such a facility would be set up in India.
That apart, starting January 1, the ministry will partner with NGOs to conduct a social audit of all juvenile homes to see how they are run and whether they follow the rules. This would be completed in six months.
“Action will be taken against homes found to be running in violation of the prescribed norms,” said a senior ministry source.