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Confessions’ – the price of freedom on Aug 15

August 17, 2011

Strap: 15 inmates per prison staff in Jharkhand – highest in India. 17196 inmates – only 5509 convicted.

(Published Hindustan Times, Jharkhand – Aug 15, 2011 (Independence Day – Front Page)

Ushinor Majumdar

Independence Day 2011 Front Page - Jharkhand

Ushinor.Majumdar@hindustantimes.com

Aug 14, 2011

Ranchi: Independence Day will bring a chance for undertrial prisoners (UTs) stuck in Jharkhand’s prisons to confess their way to freedom.

Independence Day is one of three national holidays when the Jharkhand Legal Services Authority (JHALSA) facilitates hearings in prisons for UTs through ‘special jail adalats’.  The other two days are Republic Day (26/1) and Gandhi Jayanti (2/10). This is targeted at getting relief to UTs who have been languishing in jails, sometimes for as long as or longer than the maximum sentence that can be awarded for the crimes they have been charged with.

The UTs have to send an application through prison authorities through which they inform they will appear before the special jail adalats.

Deepak Vidyarthi – additional inspector general of prisons in Jharkhand – says, “At the ‘special jail adalat’, the prisons department will enable certain UTs to present their confessions before the magistrate, under whose jurisdiction their case is to be decided. The lawyers of the accused and the public prosecutor are present, as is the proper procedure.”

The eligible UTs are those who have been charged or accused with petty offences and have already served time close to or equivalent to the maximum sentences that can be awarded for their crimes.

Jhalsa secretary Mr B.K. Goswami, District Judge, said, “Once they have officially confessed, as guilty of the crimes they have been charged with, before the magistrates, and their confessions have been taken on record, they [the UTs] are released  with a sentence of ‘time already served’ as is provided by Indian penal law.”

The UTs are not released on the same day. Every jail has its own set of formalities to be completed to effect the release of the UTs. It is a matter of a few days, according to Vidyarthi.

There are more factors that go into deciding who’s eligible for this kind of relief, according to Goswami. “For example,” he says. “Three years is the prescribed sentence for theft. The term of the sentence has been prescribed for the act not the amount, above a certain limit. We also try to give relief to such UTs who had been remanded to custody for long whereas the amount of goods stolen was of considerably less value.”

JHALSA has also started a programme by which special adalats are also now held on national holidays and festivals under the national mission mode.

Priti Bharadwaj of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative says, “Jail adalats undermines fair trial rights and weakens the presumption of innocence, encouraging and even inducing guilty pleas, and a consequent criminal history with the threat of an undetermined stay in prison.”

The UTs stuck in jails over a period of time may be tempted to ‘confess’ their guilt in order for a chance at freedom and as Bhardwaj adds “…that prisoners might be coerced into admitting guilt is not only unjust but too big a price to pay for freedom.” This results in unnecessarily creating or adding to criminal records of the UTs.

In 2005, the government amended the Criminal Procedure Code. According to the amendments, undertrial prisoners – who had been remanded to custody for half or more of the maximum sentence that could be awarded for offences they had been charged with – could be granted bail on personal bond if they could not produce the amount of surety set for their bail. This amendment did not include those who had been charged with committing unbailable offences.

The home ministry estimated these amendments could lead to the release of 40,000 to 50,000 undertrials, dramatically reducing the plight of overcrowding in India’s jails, but they have been slowly implemented, if at all.

In the meantime, India’s jails overflow above capacity. Jharkhand’s

For Infographs:

Jharkhand stats: 

Total No. of Jails – 26

No. of Central Jails – 3

No. of District Jails – 19

No. of Sub Jails – 4

Total Prison Capacity – 12946

Present Occupancy  – 17196

Rate of Occupancy – 132.8%

Undertrial – 11682

Convicts – 5509

EOM

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