The Chhattisgarh High Court has registered a suo motu Public Interest Litigation to check the feasibility of open jails in Chhattisgarh.

The bench of Chief Justice Ramesh Sinha and Justice Ravindra Kumar Agrawal were informed by a letter that an appeal of Mohd. Ansari, who is a convict and was confined in jail since 2010 for an offence under Section 302 of the IPC has been pending before the Court since 2014. It was stated in the letter that because of the confinement of the sole bread earner, the family is living a life of misery.

The Case was registered suo motu based on data collected from the Central Jails and District Jails situated in the State of Chhattisgarh pursuant to the letter. The data collected is as follows:-

(i) Children living with female prisoners in jail: 82

(ii) details of convicts having conviction of more than 20 years of imprisonment and appeal has been dismissed from the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India: 340

(iii) the capacity of the jail and the total number of prisoners kept in jail: The capacity of Jails is 15,485 against which 19,476 prisoners are confined

(iv) number of prisoners who are skilled professionals like carpenters, plumbers, painters, gardeners, farmers etc.: 1843

(v) number of prisoners who are senior citizens: 504

(vi) number of prisoners who tried to escape the jail: 4

The Court noted that the number of prisoners confined in the jails is much higher than its actual capacity. The Court specified that it initiated the PIL suo moto to investigate the feasibility of implementing the concept of open jails in Chhattisgarh and to explore whether such a measure would be viable in the state.

The Court further stated that when a criminal/offender is confined in jail, it is not only the person who had committed the crime that suffers, but at times, when the said offender is also the sole bread earner of the family, the entire family suffers. As per the Court, after undergoing a long period of incarceration, when the prisoner is released at the fag end of his life, he is unable to sustain himself and his family in any manner.

Therefore, the Court observed that the State must explore all the possibilities that may help an inmate to lead the normal life of a law-abiding citizen when he is released.

While noting that the concept of open jail is not new in India and the states of Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Himachal already have active open jails, the Court observed, “The paradigm of reformative punishment does not support the traditional inhuman jails with bars but is more liberal and supports the concept of open prisons, which is a trust-based prison with minimum security.”

The Court observed that an open jail provides a congenial atmosphere which would help the offender to socialise even before he is released from the jail. The Court further noted that there are quite a good number of prisoners who are skilled professionals whose services may be utilized and in turn, they may also earn something for their future.

The Court directed the chief secretary of the govt of Chhattisgarh to submit an affidavit regarding the matter.

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