Notes on Open prisons in India


Notes on Open prisons in India

An open prison, also called minimum-security prison, open camp, or prison without bars, is a prison which is open in four respects:

(i) Open to prisoners, i.e., inmates can go to market at sweet will during the day but have to come back in the evening;


(ii) Open in security, i.e., there is absence of precautions against escape, such as walls, bars, locks and armed guards;

(iii) Open in organisation, i.e., working is based on inmates’ sense of self-responsibility, self-discipline, and self-confidence; and

(iv) Open to public, i.e., people can visit the prison and meet prisoners. It is the kind of authority and the nature of management transferred to the inmates and the degree of freedom from physical restraints (to escape) that should be the real measure of openness of an open prison.

The main objectives of establishing open prisons are: to reduce overcrowding in jails, to reward good behaviour, to give training in self-reliance, to provide dependable permanent labour for public works, to prevent frustrations and create hope among long-termers, to provide training in agriculture and industry, to examine the suitability of releasing offenders from prisons, and to enable prisoners to live with their family members (in some states).


The first open prison was established in Switzerland in 1891, in the United States in 1916, in Britain in 1930, and in the Netherlands in 1950. By 1975, there were 13 open prisons in England, 25 in the United States, four each in Sri Lanka and the Australia, three in Hong Kong, two each in New Zealand, China, Japan, Malaysia, Pakistan, Philippines and Thailand, and 23 in India (Ghosh, 1992: 9-10).

In India, the first open prison was started in 1905 in Bombay Presidency. The prisoners were selected from the special class prisoners of Thane Central Jail, Bombay. However, this open prison was closed in 1910. The state of Uttar Pradesh established the first open prison camp in 1953 for the construction of a dam over Chandraprabha River near Benaras (now Varanasi).

After completing this darn, the prisoners of the ┬░Pen camp were shifted to a nearby place of constructing the dam over Karamnasa River. The third camp was organised at Shahbad for digging a canal.

Encouraged by the success of these temporary camps, a permanent camp was started on March 15, 1956 at Mirzapur with a view to employing prisoners on the work of quarrying stones for Uttar Pradesh government cement factory at Churk, Mirzapur.


The initial strength of prisoners in this camp was 150 which went up to 1,700 but has now come down to 800. Another permanent camp-called Sampurnanad Shivir-was established in 1960 at Sitarganj in Nainital district in Uttar Pradesh.

At the time of its establishment, Sampurnanand camp had 5,965 acres of land but later on 2,000 acres of reclaimed land were handed over to the Uttar Pradesh government for the rehabilitation of displaced persons. At present, thus, the Sitarganj camp has 3,837 acres of land and is one of the largest open prisons in the world.

Prisoners selected for the camp from different jails of the state are transferred to district jail, Bareilly, from where they are shifted to the camp.

The camp staff at present consists of one superintendent, five jailors, 12 deputy jailors, 16 assistant jailors, three assistant medical officers, six pharmacists, 126 warders and accountants, etc. The camp has capacity to accommodate 1,000 prisoners. However, on an average about 650 prisoners live in the camp during the year.


Uttar Pradesh was followed by many other states in establishing j open prisons. In 1996, there were 24 open prisons (excluding semi-open camps) found in 12 states in India. Of these, three prisons are located in Maharashtra Yeravada (1955), Paithan (1968) and Chandrapur (1972), three in Rajasthan Durgapur (1955), Sanganer (1963), and Suratgarh (1964), two in Karnataka Sanmdathi (1968) and Koramangala (1971), two in Uttar Pradesh Mirzapur (1956) and Sitarganj (I960), two in Tamil Nadu Singanallar (1956) and Salem (1966), two in Gujarat Amreli (1968) and Ahmadabad (1972), two in Andhra Pradesh Hyderabad (1954) and Anantapur (1955), two in Bihar, two in Punjab, one in Kerala Nettukeltheri (1962), one in Assam Qorhat (1964), and one in Himachal Pradesh Bilaspur (I960).

The area of open prisons in different states varies from 10 to 50 acres except in Andhra Pradesh (which has 1,427 acres), and Sitarganj camp, Nainital, Uttar Pradesh (which has 3,837 acres). The open prisons, usually located on the outskirts of a town fall within five kilometers of the nearest town, except in Kerala and Uttar Pradesh where they are situated 15 to 35 kilometres from the nearest towns.

The capacity of prisons varies from less than 100 to 1,000 prisoners. The nature of accommodation also differs from place to place. Assam, Kerala, and Himachal Pradesh prisons have permanent barracks; Mysore prison has pre-fabricated structure, and Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra prisons provide dormitories with asbestos roofs.

Some of these prisons provide work only in agriculture, some in industries, and some both in agriculture and industries.


Eligibility conditions for admission to open prisons vary from state to state. The main conditions are:

(1) Prisoners should be willing to abide by the rules of open prisons;

(2) They should be physically and mentally fit to work;

(3) They should have been sentenced for terms of one year or more and must have spent at least one-fourth of the total term of imprisonment in jail;

(4) They should have record of good behaviour in prisons;

(5) They should not be below 21 years or above 50 years as prescribed by the state;

(6) They should not have been convicted for certain types of crimes (like dacoity, forgery, counterfeiting, etc.);

(7) They should not have any case pending in the courts;

(8) They should not be habitual offenders; and (9) they should not be class I (one) prisoners or women prisoners.

The procedure for selection of prisoners for open prisons is simple. The superintendents of prisons prepare lists of prisoners to be sent to open prisons on the basis of the eligibility conditions (as described above).

These lists are sent to the selection committees which examine each case-history and make the final selection.

About 60 per cent of prisoners in open prisons are those who have been sentenced for more than 10 years, while about 85 per cent are those who have been imprisoned for more than 5 years. The average stay in the prison varies from two to three years. The wage system also varies from prison to prison.

It may thus be maintained that open prisons differ from the ordinary prisons in four respects: in structure (affecting organisation and administration), in role systems (affecting work and interaction in everyday life), in normative systems (affecting social restrictions and expectations guiding behaviour), and in value orientations (affecting conduct and training).

While inmate system in ordinary jails is dominated by a set of values and norms which are largely anti-social and anti- administration the inmate system in open prisons is pro-adiainisttition. Open prisons are characterised more by consensus among inmates.

Ghosh (1993) studied 200 prisoners from two open prisons (Sitarganj and Mirzapur) in Uttar Pradesh in 1991 for analysing attitudes, Personality traits, and ref- Tnation of prisoners in open jails. For a comparative study (control group), she select 200 prisoners from two central jails of Banaras (Varanasi) and Bareilly in the same slate.

She focused on two aspects: personality variables and adjustment level. In Personality variables, she studied three aspects: (a) self-esteem, (b) Suilt-feeling, anxiety and insecurity, and (c) extroversion, neuroticism, and psychoticism. She found that:

i. More prisoners in open prisons indicate a high level of adjustment to personal problems as well as to co-inmates and the staff than those in closed prisons. The high adjustment is the result of better facilities and free environment.

ii. Inmates in open prisons exhibit more positive self-esteem and positive attitude towards co-inmates than those in closed prisons.

iii. Anxiety, insecurity and guilt-feelings are found more among the inmates of closed jails than open camps.

iv. Attitude towards authorities is more cooperative among prisoners in open camps than those in closed jails.

v. Psychoheism, neuroticism and extroversion among convicts are found to be much less in open prisons than in closed prisons.

vi. Inmates of open prisons show more positive attitude towards society than those in closed prisons.

These findings thus point out the positive use of open prisons in the reformation and rehabilitation of criminals. It may, however, be noted that open prisons need to be restructured and reorganised. What really needed is:

1. Establishing open prisons in all those states where they do not exist at present.

2. Framing common rules of eligibility for admission and providing facilities for offenders in open prisons in all states.

3. Laying down common rules of remission for inmates. For instance, a prisoner in Sitarganj camp, Nainital (Uttar Pradesh) and Sanganer prison, Jaipur (Rajasthan) earns remission at the rate of one day for one day stay. In addition, he is entitled to fifteen days’ remission for good conduct every year. Besides, the superintendent and Inspector General of Prisons are also empowered to grant special remission. The prisoners are also permitted to keep their families with them, if they so desire.

4. Checking biases, pressures and corruption in preparing lists of prisoners to be sent to open prisons by superintendents.

5. Assigning powers to the courts for sending certain types of offenders directly to open prisons.

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