Jail a learning experience: Hindustan Times, February o6, 2006
Badli-Badli si hai hava: Outlook
Hindi, May 15, 2006
Amritsar gets a model jail: Civil Society/ October 2006
Momentum behind bars: Hindustan
Times, December 25, 2006
free to reform: The Tribune, Saturday, December 30, 2006
- Bringing to book: The Indian
Express, Sunday, December 31, 2006 (http://www.indianexpress.com/sunday/story/19723.html
- Breaking free from shackles:
Saturday, December 30, 2006, Chandigarh (http://www.tribuneindia.com/2006/20061230/aplus1.htm)
Society/ October 2006
Amritsar gets a model jail
Civil Society News
Kunwar Vijay Pratap Singh took over as DIG of Amritsar Central Jail last year,
the prison was in horrible shape. Built to accommodate a thousand prisoners, it
housed more than double. Jail staff, notoriously unkind to inmates, was divided
into warring factions.
Prisoners had to grease palms for everything. In short, Amritsar jail was like
any other Indian prison. Conjure an image of a dank, cramped cell with dirty bathrooms,
rotten food and jail officials ready to roast you. But in the span of one year,
Kunwar Vijay Pratap Singh turned Amritsar jail into a model that is being replicated
across Punjab. "I dedicate my work to the holy soil of Amritsar," he said as he
walked away with an award given by the India Vision Foundation in recognition
of his work.
foundation is headed by Kiran Bedi, India's first woman police officer, well known
for her zealous efforts to reform Tihar jail, Asia's largest prison, which won
her the Magsaysay award. She started the foundation to continue her work.
most Indian jails carry on as medieval dungeons, a small movement for reform is
underway inspired by Kiran Bedi's efforts. "It showed us that relations between
jailors and prisoners can be changed," remarked one jail official.
award function, held on 31 August, also honoured SP Singh, the vice-chancellor
of Guru Nanak Dev University, (GNDU) for extending educational facilities to inmates
of Amritsar jail. Sunil Kumar Gupta, a law officer from Delhi Central Jail, was
honoured for his efforts to get undertrials released while a team of jail officials
from Haridwar were awarded for introducing organic farming in their prison.
turnaround at Amritsar jail is dramatic because Vijay Pratap's reforms sought
to change the character of the prison. Jails don't need to be congested. Across
India thousands of prisoners are under trial.
jail officials agree that almost 80 per cent are arrested for offences that are
bailable but many prisoners are too poor to pay. "I wanted to save ordinary prisoners
from becoming criminals," says Vijay Pratap. He helped to get 350 undertrials
released. He got a Legal Aid Cell started with help from the India Vision Foundation,
Lawyers for Social Action and local advocates. Free legal help is given to Bangladeshi
and Pakistani prisoners as well.
also got the cooperation of the District and Sessions Judge, Amritsar.
types of prisoners were helped to get release orders:
those arrested for petty offences who had already served time in prison and whose
trial was still going on, those arrested in connection with excise cases and
those against whom the police had not filed any charge sheet within the stipulated
departure of 350 prisoners created more room. Instead of sleeping on the cold
hard floor, for the first time, cots are being provided to prisoners. These are
made in the jail premises and have been given to women inmates. Efforts are on
to improve infrastructure.
of prisoners make sure food is of good quality, is distributed fairly and cooked
hygienically. Corruption has been weeded out. The jail also provides inmates an
alternative career so that they can contribute to society and don't need to turn
jail's education centre was started in May this year and inaugurated by Kiran
Bedi. The Guru Nanak Dev University offers certificate courses in computer basics,
TV maintenance and tailoring. The university has financed a computer lab. SP Singh,
vice-chancellor of GNDU, visited the prison and took a decision to link the university
has shown what a university can do," says Kiran Bedi. Prisoners run the education
centre. The Principal is an undertrial with a Ph.D. There are five faculties:
higher education, adult education, school education, languages and computer education.
Educated inmates run the courses. Inmates can study for graduate and post-graduate
courses. IGNOU has also set up a centre in the prison and a library has been started.
Seven hundred students have enrolled. None of the children were going to school
when Vijay Pratap took over.
A government school was identified and the children are sent there. Some jail
officials objected, saying it's not in our rule- books. Vijay Pratap asked them
where is it written that children should not be sent? There is also a crèche for
are taught candle-making, tie and dye etc. To improve the mind and relieve mental
stress there is yoga and meditation every morning and sports in the evening. Some
40 prisoners have become yoga teachers.
a de-addiction centre has been started. Drug abuse was rampant among inmates.
All those involved in selling and distributing drugs, including jail officials,
medical staff and prisoners were rounded up.
They were transferred and FIRs lodged against some. The de-addiction centre is
being run with help from the Civil Defence and Rotary Club in Amritsar.
prisoners have a say. There are complaints and suggestion boxes near the Gurdwara
and temple inside the jail. The boxes are opened either by Vijay Pratap or his
assistant. Prisoners can meet the DIG during office hours.
prisoners were very moved when the Brahma Kumaris visited the jail and prayed
for their long life and happiness.
Brahma Kumaris tied rakhis on their wrists and on Bangladeshi and Pakistani prisoners
as well. "It is possible to do your job honestly and truthfully in this profession,"
says Vijay Pratap, an MA in Sanskrit from Patna. "though to tread this path is
like walking on the edge of a sharp sword." (http://www.civilsocietyonline.com/news_details.asp?news_id=193)