‘Have you seen a rich businessman or powerful politician languishing in jail for that long?’

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British journalist/researcher, Helen Crew recently wrote to us informing how she was ‘inspired’ by a report published on jantakareporter.com. Helen Crew, the author of the this blog, says the report above inspired her to do more research on new initiatives being carried out in India.

Helen Crew

A problem for many governments, non-governmental organisations and policy-makers is how to interpret international human rights conventions and plethora of international policy to have relevance for local people. This issue is not just a problem for nation-states such as India, but is relevant for all nation-states.

While studies are being conducted around the world about issues relating to women in prison, the main understandings for how to deal with issues such as an increase in women in prison relies on Westernised ideals. This blog is not designed to impose a Western interpretation on interventions or research from India. The aim is to explain two initiatives from India using governmental reports and research. These are the introduction of CCTV to protect women in police stations and passing a yoga test to be released from prison.

CCTV to protect women:

In 2015 the Supreme Court directed that all states within India should install CCTV cameras in prisons and police cells. The implicit assumption has been to introduce this initiative in order to reform the criminal justice system in India. The basis of the introduction of CCTV cameras to protect women in Indian jails follows accusations that women have been raped when they are in judicial and police custody. A United States Department of State (USSD) report (2014) claimed that there has been an under-estimation of rapes committed by the police. This report explained that many women would be frightened to admit to being a victim due to the stigma and a lack of accountability if the perpetrator was an official. Reports of alleged torture and inhuman treatment within police custody as well as the prison system are corroborated by research conducted in 2012. Garg and Singla (2012) from the Law Department at Chaudhary Devi Lal University evaluated the rights of women prisoners and explained problems for female prisoners within India. This study explained how a woman who was rescued from being trafficked was handed over to a police station and then raped by the sub-Inspector (Garg and Singla, 2012). Without knowing the cultural issues or local concerns, it is possible that installing CCTV cameras and directing that every police station should have at least two women constables is not an indication of equality for women.

The issues of equality and impartial justice are high on the agenda for all United Nations bodies that deal with human rights and justice systems throughout the world. The problem remains that while measures such as CCTV cameras could be justified, this type of intervention is not going to improve access to equal and impartial justice.

Passing a yoga test to be released from prison:

Yerwada Central jail is within the state of Maharahtra and it was reported this month a new scheme is being introduced. According to the director general of this prison, when prisoners pass their yoga exam they can get a maximum of three months early release. Yoga initiatives have started within prisons since Nerendra Modi was elected prime minister in 2014 ( AFP, December, 2015). Despite these initiatives, the main problem for the prison system within India concerns overcrowded prisons and many vulnerable prisoners spending years in prison.

In particular, women can have their children staying within them until they are six. Not only are there reports that Indian prisons deny pre-school education and a lack of communication with the outside world but also vulnerable people can spend years in prison because they can’t afford bail. The latest report includes a statement from a group called the People’s Vigilance Committee of Human Rights who explained that ‘justice seems very costly for the poor in India’. While this report was referring to reports of torture, abuse, and the judicial process in India, Lenin Raghuvanshi makes a statement that could be reflected upon within any country in the world and says, “Have you ever seen a rich businessman or powerful politician languishing in jail for that long?”

In 2014, a seminar and training sessions on human rights and management were aimed to promote penal reform within India. According to Penal Reform International, these sessions were developed for the Indian context and included treatment of vulnerable groups. This training course covered international standards and norms, principles of prison management, physical, procedural and dynamic security, ways to reduce pre-trial detention, healthcare in prisons, oversight of detention facilities, treatment of vulnerable groups and reintegration as well as discussing some new and emerging issues. While all countries sign up to international human rights conventions, and there are now new international standards for the treatment of prisoners (Nelson Mandela Rules) the compliance and implementation of these rules is flexible in order to allow for local issues.  In a report from 2014, called the outlook for 21st century India, the conclusion was that within India the debate about penal reform  has only just begun. In December 2016 the International Society of Criminology will be holding a world congress in New Delhi to discuss Urbanization, Globalization, Development & Crime: Opportunities & Challenges of the XXI Century.

Other themes deemed to be of special importance and relevance are:

–   Extremism, Terrorism & Warfare: Mass Violence and its Impact on Society

–   The Victimization of Vulnerable Populations: Crimes Against Women, Children, The Elderly & Minorities

–   The Politics of Crime: The Role of Crime and Terrorism in National & International Decisions & Interventions

Helen Crew has 20 years of research, development and policy skills within the public, voluntary and community sectors in England and Wales.

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