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“Older Jail Laws Must be Replaced with New Ones to reform jails”

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.


Khurram Nizami
Khurram Nizami


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