To free up prison spaces, authorities weigh plan to pay for undertrials’ bail

Proposal may help decongest city’s prisons by at least 20%, say Prisons Department officials; it will include suggestion to overhaul legal assistance system, effective implementation of probation law

May 29, 2023 01:48 am | Updated 01:48 am IST - New Delhi

To ease the burden on Delhi’s three prison complexes, officials of the Prisons Department said they are working on a proposal to create a special fund to provide monetary assistance to undertrial prisoners (UTPs) who are unable to afford a lawyer or pay the bail amount.

According to a senior official, the proposal is at an early stage and, if approved by the Delhi government, could help decongest prisons by at least 20%. Another official pegged the number at “30-40%”.

Overcrowded jails

Official data showed that the three prison complexes — Tihar, Mandoli and Rohini — currently hold nearly 20,500 inmates; more than twice their total sanctioned strength of 10,026 prisoners.

Over 14,000 inmates are lodged in the nine jails of Tihar alone, against its capacity of 5,200.

The Rohini jail, opened in 2004 with a capacity of 1,050, holds more than 2,050 inmates. The Mandoli complex, operational since 2016, houses nearly 4,400 prisoners in its six jails against its capacity of 3,776.

Sources said this has caused many problems, such as crowded cells, fights among prisoners, unhygienic conditions, ineffective monitoring of inmates and failure to conduct reformation activities.

The senior official told The Hindu that the department, in its proposal, will request the government to either create a new fund or allow using the Prisoners’ Welfare Fund to provide legal assistance to UTPs or pay their bail bond.

“Many inmates who secure bail [in court] spend months in jail as they cannot afford to pay the bond of ₹10,000-20,000.

“Our argument is: if the State is anyway spending on a prisoner for however long they are in jail, why don’t we pay the bond if they have secured bail? We believe it will be less than what we spend on keeping an inmate for months,” he added.

Asked about the screening process for inmates who are most in need of bail, the official explained, “We take the details of all inmates when they come in. Whenever a prisoner applies for monetary help, we will conduct a proper background check, visit their house and then decide if monetary assistance should be given.”

Legal assistance system

The proposal will also suggest an overhaul of the system of legal assistance provided by the Delhi State Legal Services Authority (DSLSA), the official said. “The current system is very old and slow, leading to piling of cases.”

The DSLSA provides legal assistance to prisoners, with a majority of the inmates opting for the authority’s aid at the time of their arrival in jail. “But the existing mechanism is not working effectively for us. In the proposal, we will demand for a stronger mechanism and better coordination for timely bails and completion of other formalities,” the official noted.

He also said that jail authorities recently partnered with some NGOs that pay the surety amounts of some poor inmates after they secure bail. “We are planning on continuing this approach and tying up with more groups until we have a provision to give monetary help,” he added.

Another Prisons Department official said that a section of the proposal will seek effective implementation of the Probation of Offenders Act, which is aimed at reforming amateur and first-time offenders after due admonition or warning with advice. The Act also seeks to provide young offenders with rehabilitation in the society so as to prevent them from turn into obdurate criminals under environmental influence of hardened criminals in jails.

“Just one approach won’t solve the problem. We need to take several steps to slowly decongest Delhi’s jails soon,” the official added.

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