1500 vs none: No woman on Tihar jail’s repeat offenders list in the last 2 years
India’s largest prison, Tihar, has not seen a single convicted woman rearrested and brought back to prison in the past two years. That’s in contrast with male convicts, at least 22% of whom were arrested again for different crimes after their release and found themselves back in Tihar.
Records seen by Hindustan Times show that of the 310 women convicts in Delhi’s Tihar jail last year, not a single woman was a “repeater.” In jail records, a repeater is a person who comes to prison more than once.
In comparison, there were 1,537 male repeater convicts (22.43%) out of 6,850 convicts in the prison in 2018. In 2017 too, while there was no repeater woman convict in the prison during the year, 1,978 male convicts found themselves back in Tihar after getting caught for different crimes across the city.
The number of woman prisoners undergoing trial – yet to be convicted — who are repeat offenders is also fewer than their male counterparts. In 2018, there were 52,050 male under trial prisoners, while the number of women undertrials was 1,670. Of them, at least 13,450 male prisoners were repeat undertrial offenders (25.84%) while the female undertrial offenders made up only 209(12.51%).
Former Youth Congress leader Sushil Sharma, who spent 24 years in Tihar jail for his wife’s murder until his release in December last year, said prisoners tend to return to jail because they are not accepted by society.
“Convicted prisoners who are released after 14-15 years do not normally return to prison. The number of such prisoners must be less than 1%. Majority of convicted prisoners who return are those who served time for minor offences such as snatching, theft or robbery and were released after a few years. If counselling and skill development initiatives are provided for such prisoners, it will reduce the number of prisoners returning to prison.”
Jail officers said that it may be true that most repeater convicts are those who were released after serving relative short jail sentences, but there are still some exceptions. Earlier this month, the jail had a former convicted prisoner and long time resident as its latest entrant. A 34-year-old man, Hemchand, who was released in 2016 after serving life imprisonment for the murder of fashion designer Kunjum Budhiraja in 1999 was arrested again. Within a month of his release after spending 15 years in prison, Hemchand had in January 2017 stabbed a man and was on the run for the last two-and-a-half years.
Jail officers say they take many steps to keep such prisoners away from first-timers. “Young prisoners or those who are first-timers are kept in a separate jail. They are lodged in jail 5 and are watched to ensure that they do not interact with habitual offenders. For women prisoners, it is not a problem so they are all kept together,” a prison officer said.
Prison expert Sunil Gupta, who was Tihar’s law officer for 35 years until his retirement in 2015, said the percentage of convicted women prisoners returning to jail has always been on the lower side compared to men.
“During my time at the prison, about 2-3% of women convicts returned to jail after their release. Most of these women were those convicted under the Excise Act for bootlegging charges and others for immoral trafficking. Only this category of women prisoners returned. Other who were booked for murder or dowry death, served their time and left prison never to return. Male prisoners who come to prison regularly are from the lower strata,” Gupta said.
Gupta added that in prison, he came across many cases in which prisoners said that after their release the tag of having been to prison never left them because of which they committed crimes and returned to prison. “When Kiran Bedi(retired IPS officer and currently lieutenant governor of Puducherry) was the head of prison, the percentage of male prisoners returning to jail had reduced to about 9%. This was made possible by involving all prisoners in the jail’s programmes and working for their rehabilitation.”