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India's Prison Plight: How Corporate Rehabilitation Can Change Prisoners’ Lives

Private Partnership Programmes can be a way forward for corporates' contribution to bettering jail conditions.

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“I know not whether the laws be right,

Or whether laws be wrong.

All that we know who lie in gaol

Is that the wall is strong.

And that each day is like a year,

A year whose days are long.” - Oscar Wilde

Prisons are known to have existed throughout history. Prisonisation personifies a system of punishment and serves as an institutional place for convicts and undertrials during the period of their trial. There is no society without crime and criminals; that is why prisons are indispensable for every country. And yet, "All prisoners shall be treated with the respect due to their inherent dignity and value as human beings," states the first of the Basic Principles of the Nelson Mandela Rules (the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners).

The prison system in India started in the year 1846 on the recommendations of the Macaulay Committee, to punish criminals and to create order and justice in society. Slowly and with passing decades, the number of inmates in the various prisons across the country grew. Also, with the evolution of the judicial system, the idea of the release of these reformed prisoners in society as a large came into play.

The dilemma faced by society and the administration was how to rehabilitate these ex-convicts and equip them with certain vocational skills to prevent them from going back to a life of lawlessness or crime.
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Roadblocks For Correctional Reforms In India

Prison reforms started in India in the year 1919-20, but it was only after independence that considerable progress was made in this regard. Apart from focusing on the improvement of the general conditions of the prisons, nothing of significance was accomplished initially. It is only in the last three decades that the focus has shifted to correctional reforms which include vocational reforms, education, meditation & yoga, etc.

The challenges faced in the implementation of vocational reforms have been many. On one hand, the prisoners or inmates are not sufficiently motivated or skilled to engage in creative pursuits or make saleable products. Furthermore, there are huge limitations in terms of sourcing raw materials and creating a supply chain for the finished products.

The concept of carpet weaving in Jaipur Jail is age-old, initiated in 1854 by the Maharaja of Jaipur Sawai Ram Singh II. Even though being around for more than a century, the concept failed to make a statistically significant impact. A chance encounter between Mr NK Chaudhary (called ‘NKC’ by his close colleagues), the founder of Jaipur Rugs and the Director General of Police in 2016, led to the rebirth of the idea of carpet weaving for prison inmates.

Jaipur Rugs is an internationally renowned organisation, famous for its exquisite hand-knotted carpets. Along with its corporate facet, the company has always maintained its social side. NKC is referred to as the ‘Gandhi of the Carpet Industry.’ “Let goodness, fairness and most importantly, love prevail in business; profits will inevitably follow,” is the guiding principle of NKC or ‘Bhaisaab” as his employees address him.

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Innovative Vocational Activities Fund Inmates & Upskill Them Too

“Freedom Manchaha” is a project that celebrates the creations of inmate-weavers. Every rug made by the inmates highlights the potential of imagination to motivate and add prestige and prosperity to their penalised lives. This is a sustainable initiative where long-term prisoners of Jaipur, Bikaner & Dausa Jail get to design their own rugs spontaneously on the loom without a pre-designed map.

The social impact of this vocational rehabilitation has been tremendous. The inmates not only have a regular source of income but can also support their families. Moreover, many inmates can pay their lawyers for processing their appeals for clemency on the grounds of good conduct and the promise of transforming into ‘normal’ citizens.
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According to the rules of the Rajasthan Government, 25% of what the inmates earn is given to the aggrieved party. In this manner, the victims and their families also benefit financially. Since the inmates are constructively occupied, their mental state is maintained in a positive way, thereby, they are less inclined towards violence and creating law and order problems.

Learning a new skill also makes them confident and independent. It provides them with avenues to support themselves when they step out of the prison into the real world. As a case in point, on getting an international award for his carpet, one of the prisoners was so ecstatic that he said, "I never knew I could be so happy and feel a sense of worth while being in prison."

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Private Partnership Programmes As Reformative Measures in Prisons

Another similar initiative was started in September 2014 when the Andhra Pradesh Prison’s Department signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Himalaya Wellness Company for cultivation of medicinal plants in the Visakhapatnam Central jail.

Under the Private Prison Partnership(PPP) program, the government provided land and labour (prisoners) for cultivation of medicinal plants in the prison premises, while the training and rehabilitation measures for enhancing skill development among inmates and monthly stipend were provided by the drug company. Simultaneously in Anantapur open prison in Andhra Pradesh, alfalfa was also being cultivated for Himalaya. “If farmers follow the protocol while cultivation, we could provide 100% buyback guarantee as well as employment opportunities,” said Dr VU Babu, Head of Phytochemistry (Research & Development), Himalaya. After the success of this model, it was extended to three more prisons in Andhra Pradesh and two in Goa.

In 2014, Minda Furukawa Electric Pvt. Ltd (MFE), a Joint Venture Company between Spark Minda, Ashok Minda Group of India and Furukawa of Japan set up an Automotive Component manufacturing unit at Tihar Jail (TJ), New Delhi under PPP model for ‘Maruti Suzuki India Limited (MSIL)’. The investments at TJ included machinery, raw material and other quality systems and procedures as laid down per policy and the facility was run by the jail convicts under the supervision of MFE.

In this manufacturing unit, Wire Harness product, a key automotive component was manufactured by the jail convicts and supplied to MSIL. A similar project was started in Pune in October 2015, when Spark Minda of the Ashok Minda Group, in their continuous efforts towards social upliftment, started a new facility at Yerwada Jail, Pune to manufacture wire harnesses for Mahindra & Mahindra, within the jail premises. Together these two facilities employed about 80 inmates and planned to gradually increase it to 200 inmates. The prison officials praised this PPP in glowing words, saying its income offsets costs.

Social Entrepreneurship can help create a world where corporate entities can do business and still contribute substantially to the social upliftment of those people whom the society has rejected for often serious crimes on their part, committed sometime in the distant past.

Creating an equitable society where every individual’s dignity matters is not just a dream, these various examples of Private Prison Partnership has shown that it’s very much achievable. Such exemplary models can be taken up by other corporate entities in the country to make prison vocational reforms a success across India.
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In the words of Nelson Mandela, “A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens but its lowest ones.” Social entrepreneurship is the key for building a more humane and empathetic nation.

(Dr Shweta Jaiswal and Professor DVR Seshadri are associated with the Indian School of Business (ISB). This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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