A formerjournalist, an avid photographer, and former DGP of Prisons in Himachal Pradesh, Somesh Goyal has been instrumental in changing the face ofjails in the state with his innovative ideas. During his tenure as DC Prisons, this 7984-batch JPS officer not only prioritisedjail modernization but also took numerous significant steps to improve the lives of prisoners. It was his idea to have prison personnel sell bakery items on the Ridge’s taka bench, selling everything from manure to shawls and other products through the online store Kara Bazar. Simultaneously, by auditing the state’s jails for the first time, he not only informed the government of the current situation but also asked for a budget to outfit them with modern equipment.
In a free-wheeling conversation with The Legal Observer, he discusses jail conditions, reforms, and other aspects of jail administration.
You were the Director General of Himachal Pradesh Prisons. Can you tell our readers about the readings and observations you made in the jail system? As well as the inmates’ mental health.
Corrections has historically been a neglected field. This department has only recently gained prominence. Understaffing, low motivation, insufficient resources and training, unsanitary working conditions, overcrowding, and other issues plague the system.
Due to the excessive delay in their trial and the denial of bail, the undertrial prisoners generally feel hopeless. Convicts had generally low self-esteem, confidence, and emotional stability. They are all concerned about their families, who had become collateral victims of crimes. Fracas are common in the jail.
The flagship project’s idea of a job for every prisoner, “Har Hath Ko Kaam,” transformed the lives of prisoners. How did this concept emerge?
After extensive touring of the jails and informal interaction with inmates, I realised that yoga and music were not viable solutions to their lack of a source of income to support their families. Financial gains and independence may improve their mental health and economic situation. This project was launched in 2076-77. It was an instant success with both inmates and staff, who felt a sense of urgency and ownership.
Were there any problems with its implementation?
Change is never easy. There is opposition. Staff, prisoners, and other stake holder groups were all sceptical of the project’s outcome in our case. There was little infrastructure or funding to support this ambitious project to financially empower the incarcerated.
Many initiatives fail as a result of the system. What has your experience been?
Because the system, in this case the government and bureaucracy, was uninterested in this department, we were able to accomplish a lot in a short period of time. There is indifference, and non• interference has been beneficial to us.
What are your thoughts on India’s ongoing prison reforms?
There is debate, but it is slow. The motivated prison leadership is responsible for the majority of the work. The Model Prison Manual has yet to be adopted by the majority of states. The outdated prison laws must be replaced with new laws that are in line with modern times and the guidelines of the United Nations and the Human Rights Commission. The Supreme Court was looking into prison reforms and conditions. However, they delegated this monitoring to the state High court. Following that, monitoring was not as prompt and time• bound. In fact, there is no more steam.
Are our country’s prisons serving their purpose?
Of course, they are not penitentiaries, but they have successfully held prisoners despite all the constraints. For prison reform programmes, there are insufficient and unstructured resources. In most prisons, there are no counsellors. Because of the actions of hardened criminals, prisons will continue to have a bad reputation until prison reforms are implemented.
What should be prioritised in terms of prison reform?
More prisons are being built to alleviate overcrowding. Ensure that undertrials and convicts are separated. Provide enough medical, paramedical, and mental health personnel. Video conferencing is increasingly being used in trials. Create a framework for livelihood programmes in prisons. Improvement of abilities. Hand holding during reintegration into society following release, and so on.
Is the prison necessary for our society?
It does not appear to be a possibility at this time. We must accept this unavoidable evil.
It is commonly observed and believed that within any prison’s boundary wall, there are two prisons, one for influential inmates and another for common inmates. Is this reality or a figment of our imagination?
Closed spaces have their own set of issues. Staff wages that are not even comparable to those of their peers in the police force, combined with the opportunity to make quick money, create situations in which powerful people receive preferential treatment. It is completely inappropriate. Professionalism and service pride, as well as objective law enforcement, will undoubtedly help the situation.
More prisons are being built to alleviate overcrowding. Video conferencing is increasingly being used in trials. Hand holding during reintegration into society following release is becoming an important part of the rehabilitation process for convicts as well as offenders who have served their sentences.
– SOMESH GOYAL, EX- DG PRISONS, HIMACHAL PRADESH