Prison department “unprepared” for international seminar

The state prison department has missed the August 25 deadline set by the Union home ministry to submit presentation reports on correctional measures initiated in jails. Sources said the Centre had sent the directive to all the states ahead of a six-day international seminar on prison reforms at Darussalam in Brunei from October 7.

The states were also directed to nominate their officers to fly to the Asian and Pacific Conference of Correctional Administrators in Brunei. But Odisha prison wing has failed to comply with the order. “I have not seen the letter from the ministry of home affairs. We will submit a report after learning the details,” ADG (prisons) S S Hansda told on Sunday.

Sources said the delegates were scheduled to discuss core issues relating to challenges and initiatives in corrections, sharing and adaptability of best practices in correctional administration and promoting staff-offender interaction in prisons.

Hansda claimed that the state government was taking a host of correction measures such as education and vocational training to reform the inmates. Human rights activists, however, rebutted that Odisha prisons were reeling under an assortment of problems

“We often see prisoners resorting to strikes inside prisons complaining of substandard diet, unhygienic living conditions, poor health service and slow progress of trial. The government has failed to provide basic facilities to inmates,” said human rights activist Biswapriya Kanungo.

“About 84 deaths occurred in jails in Odisha in the last two years. Most of them were in their 50s and died due to poor health facilities. Some committed suicide driven by depression. Many jails are overcrowded and do not have psychiatrists and counselors,” Kanungo said. “Worried about slow progress of trial, an under trial prisoner threw slipper at a judge in Puri which indicates the sorry state of prisons in state,” he added.

Around 15,000 prisoners are languishing in 91 jails in the state, even though the actual capacity is around 9,000. Though there was a proposal in the past to build more prisons, including two open air jails, the proposed projects are moving at snail’s pace. At present, the state has only one open air jail, namely Biju Patnaik open air ashram at Jamujhari on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar. The two proposed open air prisons would come up in Sambalpur and Balasore.

The freedom and unrestricted privileges given to inmates at the Biju Patnaik open air ashram are being governed sans any rules. Though the prison administration had long back sent a proposal to the state government seeking formulation of a special legislation for functioning of the jail, it is still stuck in limbo.

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