Frequently Asked questions
1. Who are we?
Paar or Prison Aid + Action Research is a nonpartisan research and advocacy organization that advocates for open prisons. Paar was founded by Ms. Smita Chakraburtty who is an expert on prisons. Our team comprises of criminologists, human rights experts who have extensive experience of working within the criminal justice system. We are based out of Jaipur because we love the Rajasthan model of open prisons.
Our focus is on rehabilitation and social reintegration as objectives of punishment as opposed to retribution or revenge. Our focus is shaped by research and an increased understanding that retribution as a model has failed. Everyone has the right to dignified life and open prisons are better suited and more humane than closed prisons on that front. Work after conviction does not have to be meaningless physical exploitation but can be of benefit to rehabilitate the prisoner and prepare them for transition back to the society.
2. How does the criminal justice system work?
A criminal justice system treats everyone equal before the law (Article 14 of the Constitution of India). A criminal offence carries the same punishment for all. The present criminal justice system helps standardise the process of trials where specific demands for retribution from the victims or the larger society are not prioritised. These demands can vary from case to case and if entertained, will defeat the purpose of having a standard criminal justice system where everyone is equal before the law.
3. What are prisons?
Legally speaking, prison means any jail or place used permanently or temporarily under the general or special orders of a State Government for the detention of prisoners. Prisons are a part of the state list under the Article 246 of the Constitution of India. This means the states get to decide how they want to run their prisons with some guidelines from the union government.
With prisons, being an opaque system, our idea of prisons and punishment is often influenced by what is available in the media. But that is not necessarily so. Prisons can be any place notified by the state government. In fact, during recent months, such temporary prisons have been set up to isolate inmates.
4. What is an open prison?
Again, legally speaking these may be called Open Air Camps, Open Air Colonies, or even Open Correctional Institutions as per the state’s terminology. What you see on this page is an Open Air Camp in Rajasthan where the prisoners (all convicts) are given a small house to live in and they can have their families living with them, have visitors like one would in their own house with permission from the prison department.
This particular open prison which is the present focus of the page allows the prisoners to choose their vocation to earn a living. Some other open prisons have agriculture farms, gaushalas, etc as a fixed choice of vocation. Some prisons provide only lodging facilities to prisoners, some provide both lodging and employment.
The open prisons are self-governed with their own elected Panchayat and Committees for maintenance works and discipline.
5. How is it different from a closed prison?
A closed prison is a collection of barracks and wards with tall walls, bars, large gates at the entrance where prisoners are housed. They come out of these to go to their assigned work sites, to collect their meals, to use the prison canteen, for mulakat (meeting family and lawyers). They leave the prison compound only for court appearances and medical examinations.
While in closed prisons a prisoner is not allowed to leave the prison compound in an open prison, the prisoners have to report for the morning and evening attendance. After the evening attendance they are not allowed to go out. Between these two attendances they can move out for work as per their wish. Because they earn their living the prison department does not make any arrangements for their food and the prisoners have to fend for themselves. But in legal terms they are all still in judicial custody of the state, i.e. State custody. The rules that apply regarding prisoner behaviour in closed prisons apply to these prisoners too, but not to their family members living with them.
In this sense they are given graded liberty.
6. So, what are the benefits of open prisons?
For the government, these institutions are cheaper because the government spends lesser on maintenance of prisoners. These institutions require lesser staff as compared to the closed prisons.
We think, the prisoners after completing their sentence are better adjusted to go back to the society and live as law abiding citizens which benefits the society in the long run. For the families of the prisoners, who are a part of the society, such institutions help with restabilising the family unit.
For the prisoner this is a second chance, their mental health is better, they are more confident to go back to their lives in the society post imprisonment.
7. How are the prisoners selected to be transferred to Open Prisons?
Most states allow prisoners sentenced to longer sentences, after completing a certain period of their sentence in a closed prison to be transferred to an open prison. This period varies from state to state and can be half of their sentence, one third of their sentence. It is mandatory that they should have shown good behaviour in a closed prison. Further, there are restrictions on who can be transferred to an open prison with some differences between states. Habitual offenders, those convicted for organised crimes, prisoners convicted with shorter sentences (exact length of sentence varies from state to state). Some states restrict transfers of unmarried prisoners. States restrict prisoners convicted for offences connected with narcotics.
The selection for transfer to open prisons is done by a Board or Advisory Committee constituted by the state prison department which includes the Director General, Inspector General of Prisons/ Correctional Services, a representative from the Home Department (Dy. Secretary), Psychologist, Probation officer.
(Anyone interested in the exact list of restrictions and eligibility can check the respective state’s Rules for Open Prisons/ Open Air Camps/ Open Camps/ Open Colonies/ Open Correctional institutions. These are usually available on the prison department’s website for the concerned state)
8. Who are the people whose stories we put out?
The stories we are putting out are of inmates/ convicted prisoners, their family members, the staff working in such prisons.
9. Why are we putting out these stories?
We want to make people aware of these prisons. We believe in giving a voice to a population which is never heard. We want people to read about the present lives of prisoners, understand the impact of their incarceration on them and their families and learn about their transformation.
10. Are we glorifying their criminal acts?
No. We do not support criminal acts. But we do understand that there might be many factors that are involved in a conviction from access to legal representation, quality of legal representation, which again is affected by a person’s position in the society in terms of class, caste, gender, etc.
Even if the criminal act is committed, we believe in second chances because most of the convicts are one-time offenders who have committed crimes due to momentary lapse of judgment. Even in case of heinous crimes, habitual offending is negligible.
We also believe that at least some of the onus of the criminal act falls on the injustices within the society. The society acts as an enabler for many heinous criminal acts which are the outcome of privileged position assumed by the accused. We see our work within this complex understanding of crime and refrain from simplified understanding of a criminal act and the solution therein.
We support equal access to justice for everyone. We also encourage our readers to delve into the complexities of crime and refrain from encouraging short cuts to an imagined justice which does more harm than good in the long run.
11. How is good behaviour ensured in open prisons?
Like already mentioned, the same rules for behaviour apply for prisoners in an open prison and closed prison. It also comes out in many narratives that the prisoners know that they will be transferred back to closed prisons for any misconduct. Apart from the rules, the Prisoners’ Panchayat is also responsible for maintaining discipline within the Open Prison complex.
12. What about the victims?
We support their access to justice wholeheartedly. But we also believe that we do not need to take away basic rights from the accused to give the victim justice. Human rights are not finite and victim justice is independent of rights of accused.
This essentially means that policies of victim compensation, victim protection, witness protection are independent of how we treat the accused within the criminal justice system.
13. If the prisoners can be trusted to go out and mingle among general public, why not reduce their punishment/ sentence and send them home?
We would love for that to happen but that is a longer process which requires amendments to many laws.
We do wish to see a world where long punishments are not the norm and punishments are used to reform and reintegrate the individual, rather than satisfy the retributive urges of the society. Longer punishments, especially without any benefits of parole and remission have long-term effect on the well-being of the prisoners and becomes a futile exercise from a rehabilitation and reintegration perspective.
14. What do people do in the open prison?
This largely depends on which open prison the person is in. Some open prisons have limited options of vocation while some others leave it to the prisoners to choose their vocation. The rest of the day is spent like any of us might, completing our regular chores, spending time with the family and indulging in any legal form of entertainment.
15. Won't there be a chance of an escape if it's open?
Can we vouch for this? We cannot. But data shows that there have been negligible incidents of escape. One possible reason for this is that apart from that one incident which landed these people in jail, they are law abiding citizens who want to rectify that past and hope for a better future.
The Open Prisons are also a trust-based system where the prisoners reciprocate to the trust we show in them like we do in our own lives.
16. Can anyone visit open prisons?
No. Visits to open prisons require permissions from the concerned prison department.