A week ago, a group of life convicts serving sentences in Gurgaon’s Bhondsi prison were shifted to the Ambala central jail. They will remain confined at the Ambala jail for a few days before heading off to another prison.
The reason for this sudden shifting of convicts comes out to be entirely different than what most will guess. This quartet of lifers led by a bespectacled chartered accountant Rohit Pagare, 35, serving life sentence for murdering his wife, are a part of a team of convicts who are bringing a technological transformation in Haryana prisons. This inmates’ team travels back and forth from one jail to another laying optical fibre cables, setting up servers, undertaking data entry and training the prison staff.
This tale, however, cannot be complete without Amit Mishra, 30, once the undertrials and a regular visitor now to the Gurgaon jail. A free bird after his acquittal, Mishra, the brain behind the prison management software, and his team of convicts are spearheading the digitisation of the 19 prisons across the state in what they proudly term as a prisonprisoner partnership (PPP) model.
THE MISHRA-PAGARE TEAM
Mishra, a software developer, and Pagare are the key to the success of this wholly indigenous digitisation process of jails. While Mishra has designed the prison software called the Phoenix, Pagare is the implementing arm of the project.
“Computerisation for many meant just putting machines on desk. But we are linking all the prison offices in a proper and secure manner, ensuring exchange of data, improving channels of communication and minimising use of paper. The jails function under an archaic system of British era where everything is manually driven. It was workable when the prison population was not much. But now the number of inmates have grown manifold. Mishra is the key to this project. He knew what was required, designed the software accordingly and keeps on fine tuning it,” says Pagare. The duo credited former Gurgaon Jail superintendent Harinder Singh for giving them a chance to show their worth.
RISING FROM THE ASHES
The name of the software designed indigenously by Mishra too was carefully picked. “Phoenix is a mythological bird which rises from the ashes. We too had turned into ashes after getting convicted. And we thought that may be this Phoenix will give us a chance to resurrect ourselves,” says Pagare.
Jail inmate Amit Kumar using the biometric device while entering the Jhajjar jail. (Keshav Singh/HT Photo)
MEANING TO LIFE
One of the team members Anoop Singh, a convict who has spent six years in the prison, says: “We were sitting idle all the time. This project has helped us gain confidence. We are doing some productive work.” In fact, many of the convicts have decided to postpone their parole to devote time to this project. “All of them have a fertile mind. They want to learn, have the energy and are looking for a break. They can only deteriorate sitting idle,” says Pagare. Many inmates become hardened criminals while undergoing sentences. Now, there will be a sea change in their mindset when they go out, says Amit Mishra.
Additional director general of police (ADGP prisons) KK Mishra, who is directly supervising the project, says: “We are trying to take prison reforms to the next level. At the same time, efforts are on to make their lives meaningful.”
Amit Mishra says when he was sent to the Gurgaon prison as an undertrial, he faced a host of problems. “For instance, I was running around the prison seeking complete details about my case. My canteen coupons got washed. So, I knew the problem areas and what inconvenienced inmates. Then, I happened to meet jail superintendent Harinder Singh. He told me I cannot change your destiny, but I can provide you a better way to spend time.”
Singh, on the other hand, credits Mishra and his team for successfully creating and implementing the software. “Ours is the best software across the country. Since they themselves experienced the prison system, they were best suited to implement the software,” said Singh.
Explains Mishra: “The NIC software is web-based and requires an internet connection. Since round-the-clock internet connectivity and speed is an issue, it’s not effective. Other software requires a lot of data entry. But Phoenix needs data entry at only two points and has an automated operation. Moreover, it has been designed keeping in mind the precise requirements of prisons and inmates.”
TEAM IN EVERY PRISON
Mishra’s acquittal by the court meant that he would no longer be associated with the work he started. “When I was acquitted, Harinder Singh told me that I should not leave the project mid way. So, I opened my company and hired persons who were acquitted from jails. As the project expanded from one prison to another, we identified more inmates and started training them. And now we have a team in almost every prison of the state,” he says.
Amit Mishra fine-tuning the software at Gurgaon's Bhondsi jail. (Keshav Singh/HT Photo)
A TOUGH TASK
Training the prison staff turned out to be a wearying task for the team of Mishra and Pagare. “Most of the jail personnel with whom we interacted were way past their formative years and did not want to learn anything new. We had to sit with them and train them. Many would get amused and some felt slighted at being coached by convicts. But we somehow managed. The key to this project is implementation. Even if the software is developed by the best information technology company, its success lies in execution by the prison personnel — the warders who are computer illiterate,” says Pagare.
CANNOT BE MISUSED
But does the involvement of inmates makes the digitisation programme susceptible to hacking and intrusion? Jail superintendent, Harinder Singh, who is also the IT in charge, says it cannot be misused. “The server is always under physical watch. It is firewalled. This database cannot be accessed from outside the prison. It can only be accessed from where it is installed. And the biometric mechanism ensures more safety,” he says.