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Friday, Aug 23, 2019

The mess called Punjab jails

 Despite tall claims of prison reforms, mismanagement of jails continues to embarrass state government.

chandigarh Updated: Jun 28, 2019 14:02 IST
Ravinder Vasudeva
Ravinder Vasudeva
Hindustan Times, Ludhiana
One of the injured inmates being brought to the civil hospital after the clash at the central jail in Ludhiana.
One of the injured inmates being brought to the civil hospital after the clash at the central jail in Ludhiana. (Gurminder Singh/HT Photo )
         

The clash between inmates of the Ludhiana jail on Thursday, witnessed just five days after the murder of key Bargari sacrilege accused Mohinder Pal Singh Bittu by his fellow inmates in the Nabha jail, has once again exposed the mess in management of Punjab jails.

The incident has not only left the state prisons department embarrassed as it came after a ‘high alert’ was sounded in jails after Bittu’s murder and security of all jails in the state was reviewed, but also exposed the tall claims of Capt Amarinder Singh government over jail reforms.

The blatant use of mobile phones inside Punjab jails was again witnessed in Ludhiana incident as the inmates not only made a video of the clash, but also streamed it live on Facebook from inside the prison campus. They also circulated it on WhatsApp groups within minutes of the incident.

Even in case of Bittu’s killing, it has emerged in the initial probe that the two killers had made WhatsApp calls to certain persons outside the jail two days before the killing.

No lessons seem to have been learnt from the Nabha jailbreak of November 2016, in which the gangsters, in a filmy style, freed six dreaded prisoners from the ‘high-security jail’. Those who freed the prisoners were in touch with the gangsters inside the jail via mobile.

The use of mobile phones inside jails is going on unabated despite a warning by jails minister Sukhjinder Randhawa that he will suspend senior prison officials in case mobiles are found from the inmates.

As per information gathered from the department, more than 500 mobile phones have been recovered from inmates in the past around one year.

WHY ARE STATE JAILS UNMANAGEABLE?

Jails in Punjab house around 23,000 permanent prisoners, and shortage of staff and their nexus with inmates are the biggest issue that the department is grappling with.

In an ideal situation, the ratio of prisoners and jail wardens should be 6:1, but in Punjab, the ratio is 9:1. The department is still short of around 500 warders to achieve this ratio.

Experts say another big reason behind the inefficiency of the jail department to manage the inmates is the lack of commitment and alertness on the part of the staff deployed in jails.

Whenever any prisoner comes in a jail, he or she is checked at its main gate manned by the jail and Punjab Police staff. Again ‘intense frisking’ is done at the second gate by the jail staff, who are assisted by Punjab Ex-servicemen Corporation (PESCO) staff and Home Guards.

Before the prisoner is lodged in the cell, frisking is re-done by PESCO, Home Guards and jail staff.

“Still, the inmates manage to get mobiles and drugs inside as there is a nexus between jail staff and the inmates. The staff in Punjab jails has grown old. PESCO employees lack in commitment or get threatened by prisoners’ criminal records. We need to have tough men to guard jails from inside and outside,” a retired DIG-rank officer of the jails department told HT.

A senior official of the department revealed that “underpaid” PESCO staff and Home Guard officials, who keep check on prisoners, easily get attracted to various “offers”.

“PESCO personnel get less than Rs 10,000 as monthly salary and it’s easy to trap them by offering money,” he said.

MODERNISATION OF JAILS:

More work, less rhetoric-

Even as the home department and the jails department have repeatedly made headlines with claims to modernise jails, nothing much has happened on the ground and most of the projects are stuck due to lack of funds.

In June 2018, while chairing a meeting of the jails department , chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh had given his go-ahead to procurement of hi-tech security apparatuses for all state jails including X-ray baggage machines, deep search metal detectors, pole metal detectors, full body scanners, boom barriers, dragon and flood lights.

After taking over as jails minister, Randhawa had also announced that 5-G jammers would be installed in the jails within months.

All these modernisation efforts are yet to see the light of the day. “All such proposals are stuck due to shortage of funds,” said an official.

However, two good things that have been done are the appointment of around 200 warders and the installation of CCTV cameras on main points.

BOX VIOLENCE AND GRAFT IN JAILS

June 22, 2019: Sacrilege mastermind Mohinder Pal Singh Bittu was killed by two inmates with iron rods in Nabha jail.

June 27, 2019: One inmate killed and five injured after a clash among two groups.

April, 2019: Four officers of Patiala jail, including its superintendent Rajan Kapoor, dismissed from service for extortion from gangsters lodged inside.

July 8, 2019: Two inmates attacked deputy superintendent jails in Mansa prison.

First Published: Jun 28, 2019 14:02 IST

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