Out of Prison, Sentenced to Poverty

Only 1.27% prisoners released between 2018-20 from Tihar jail received the rehabilitation grant from the Delhi govt.

8 min read

Kamal Shaikh was only 18 when he was convicted of murder and sentenced to imprisonment for life in Delhi’s Tihar jail. Sixteen years later, in October 2020, Shaikh was granted premature release by the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi on the recommendation of the Sentence Review Board. In its recommendation, the Board had cited “family responsibilities”, “successful completion of programmes”, and “satisfactory behaviour during incarceration”, as reasons to justify his release.

While Shaikh was allowed to walk out of prison, he was denied the rehabilitation that could help him reintegrate into society. Left stranded, his release from prison, has ironically, sentenced him to poverty.

Kamal Shaikh is one of 18 prisoners interviewed by The Quint who were granted premature release from Tihar prison in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. All these prisoners had completed at least 15 years of actual imprisonment. However, none of them were given the rehabilitation grant that they were entitled to under the Delhi Rehabilitation Grant to Released Prisoners Rules, 2012.

The denial of the grant subjected the released prisoners to acute economic and psychological stress, which was aggravated by the breakdown of social and economic opportunities due to the pandemic.


The Policy for Post-Release Rehabilitation

After serving their sentence, prisoners in Delhi are entitled to a post-release rehabilitation grant under the Delhi Rehabilitation Grant to Released Prisoners Rules, 2012. The grant is given by the Delhi government’s Department of Social Welfare. The quantum of grant to the released prisoners who have spent a period of incarceration above ten years is Rs. 50,000 for men and Rs 55,000 for women.

A released prisoner is supposed to make a request for the grant before the Jail Superintendent within three months of release along with a filled-up prescribed form and an income certificate issued by the government. The request is then be forwarded to the Chief Probation Officer for verification and convening the meeting of the Assessment Committee. The Assessment Committee scrutinises all the requests along with the reports of the Prison Welfare Officers and makes recommendations for the grant. The grant is then finally released by the Social Welfare Department.

The grant is released with strict conditions and the Social Welfare Department holds unilateral and unfettered power to either revise the quantum or recover the already disbursed grant from the released prisoner.

Rehabilitation That Remains on Paper

Only 1.27% prisoners released between 2018-20 from Tihar jail received the rehabilitation grant from the Delhi govt.

To corroborate the narratives of prisoners struggling to sustain themselves after release from jail, The Quint filed RTI applications to all 16 jails of the Tihar prison complex and to the Department of Social Welfare, Delhi government. The RTI applications sought data on the existing policy on post-release rehabilitation, the procedures and conditions for disbursement of grants, the offence-wise and gender-wise data on the ratio of total number beneficiaries to total released prisoners.

The reply to the RTI applications reveal that between 2018-2020, out of the 4,803 prisoners who were released, only 61 received the rehabilitation grant. In other terms, only 1.27% of the eligible prisoners could benefit from the rehabilitation grant scheme.

The prison department and the social welfare department did not furnish data on the gender and offence of the beneficiaries or the actual amount disbursed to each of the beneficiaries. So, the question still remains as to whether the paltry lot of prisoners who benefitted from the scheme were actually given the quantum of grant specified in the scheme.

However, Tihar jail’s abysmal track record in disbursing rehabilitation packages to released prisoners is not the only concern. Criminal justice practitioners believe that the quantum of grant is also extremely meagre and requires a substantial upward revision.

A senior probation officer in Delhi’s Social Welfare Department who did not want to be named told The Quint that the existing grant slabs were set in 2010 and have not factored in a steep hike in inflation and decline in employment opportunities since then.

“Various proposals were initiated (to revise the grant slabs), but they never saw the light of day. Even now a proposal is pending with the cabinet (Delhi government) to not only revise the slabs but also widen the coverage.”
Probation Officer, Department of Social Welfare, Delhi Government

What Explains Such Apathy Towards Rehabilitation

The prisoners interviewed by The Quint said that they were neither informed about the rehabilitation scheme nor given the requisite forms at the time of their release. Such concealment of information, they believe, deprive a lot of prisoners of the grant they might be entitled to.

Prisoners found it extremely difficult to get in touch with the welfare officer of their respective jails. Five of them informed The Quint that when they went back to the Tihar complex seeking a meeting with the welfare officer, the guards asked them to go back. They were denied entry into the prison or an appointment with the jail superintendent or the welfare officer, citing pandemic as a reason. 

When the quint informed the Social Welfare Department about the behaviour of the prison guards, they asked us to inform the prisoners to apply for the documents online and send them via post.

The “apply online” approach was bereft of the knowledge that many released prisoners who are applying for the grant are so economically deprived that they do not have access to internet, computer, or smartphone. Moreover, due to the ongoing lockdown, they can’t approach others or help or go to government offices or post office. When the quint volunteered to apply for their documents online, the website repeatedly showed a technical glitch. We were unable to upload certain documents as the portal kept showing “server down” or “service error”. 

Professor Vijay Raghavan, India’s leading criminologist and a professor at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, thinks that such an appalling rate of implementation can also be a sign of a lack of budget. Professor Raghavan’s own research on the rehabilitation of prisoners in Maharashtra had revealed that the budgeting for rehabilitation schemes was woefully inadequate.

The quint did contact both the prison department and the social welfare department of the Delhi government asking questions on poor implementation and lack of budgeting. However, the authorities refused to provide any explanation. 

While procedural hassles and lack of awareness about the rehabilitation scheme do contribute to its inadequate implementation, the gap in the statistics forces one to look for more reasons. Is the budgeting completely divorced from the ground reality? Are funds getting properly utilised? Or is there a complete lack of will on the part of the involved authorities.


Pain Aggravated By the Pandemic

Only 1.27% prisoners released between 2018-20 from Tihar jail received the rehabilitation grant from the Delhi govt.

Ravinder (56), was released from Tihar’s Jail No. 2 in March 2020. Instead of being welcomed to a sense of liberty he had envisioned, he was forced to another form of confinement - lockdown. Ravinder holds no formal education, could not participate in “skill-development programmes” inside the jail due to his old age and recurrent health issues. At present, his son is unable to run their street-side stall selling Momos, due to the lockdown.

“I’m nothing but a burden on my son and wife, I can’t live like this... My son’s savings are drying up, he can’t work now, he has to buy my medicines. I can’t see him like this, I wish they had never released me!”

Kushal Kumar, who served 15 years in Tihar’s Mandoli Jail and Jail No. 2 for murder, completed a diploma in computer application and a postgraduate certificate in cyber laws during his sentence. However, after his release, he was denied a job by 8 organisations. Kumar believes that he will never get a job due to the stigma of being an ex-convict.

Only 1.27% prisoners released between 2018-20 from Tihar jail received the rehabilitation grant from the Delhi govt.
“Who wants to give a job to an ex-prisoner. I’m still a criminal in their eyes.”
Kushal Kumar

Kumar believes that the problem lies with the “design of the system” itself. He believes that the prison department should itself offer contractual jobs to released prisoners. “After all, they’ve seen our work, they know we can do it”, he said.

Rajesh Singh, who was out on emergency parole before his official release under the orders of Delhi’s High Powered Committee for decongestion of prisons, told The Quint that the government rules must change.

We (ex-convicts) are not allowed to apply for government jobs. We’re disqualified due to our prison sentence. Even after our release, after serving our sentence, we are made to feel “unworthy” and “unwanted”.
Rajesh Singh 

All the 15 prisoners that were interviewed believe that the entire policy on post-release rehabilitation grant needs a rehaul. The current provisions put an unnecessary burden of documentation on prisoners, which entangles their post-release life in bureaucratic red-tape.

“Why do they ask us to fill the form, or provide the income certificate. They have all our data. They know our entire family and economic background. Why are we then forced to beg the authorities for an income certificate?”
Kushal Kumar

Victimised By An Ignorant System

The narratives of the prisoners reveal the state’s acute apathy towards the needs of those who come out of the prison after serving a substantial amount of time.

The rules and the institutional behaviour fail to recognise the trauma and the economic hardship caused to prisoners by the pains of incarceration. The legal system is not at all accountable for the reintegration of the released prisoners into the community, or even for their survival.

Eleven out of the 15 prisoners complained about not receiving any psychological counselling to prepare for life after 16-18 years in prison. They felt “abandoned”, “forgotten”, and some, even “betrayed”.

“They don’t care about what happens to us after this. They don’t care where we go or what we do. We’re sent to fend for ourselves, for our families. How do they expect us to earn?”
A prisoner who wished to remain anonymous

Professor Raghavan told The Quint that no government wants to take the responsibility of rehabilitation of prisoners and persons released or discharged from women and children's institutions.

“We do not even have a specific department of corrections and rehabilitation either at the Centre or at the state government level. There’s no proper system to ensure adequate and effective post-release reintegration of prisoners.”
Professor Vijay Raghavan

Professor Raghavan believes that the discourse on rehabilitation should move beyond monetary grants and include psychological support as well. He claims that at least for 1-3 years post release, released prisoners and their families require some kind of psycho-social “hand-holding”.

“We need a cadre of trained social workers and counsellors with aftercare contact centres in each city and district who can provide a range of psycho-social services to this population in a sustained manner to help them re-enter society.”
Professor Vijay Raghavan

The need to ensure adequate rehabilitation for the released prisoners is not just an issue of individual justice, but also of community welfare. Effective post release rehabilitation would assist desistance, and ensure that released prisoners do not suffer mental health issues, or take to substance abuse, or turn towards illegal activities to make ends meet.

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